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Few Peacemakers in the New Israeli Knesset

Israeli voters have elected a majority of lawmakers who are against the two-state solution. Now it’s up to the world–and the Obama administration–to respond.

Thirty-three parties ran for the Knesset (the Israeli parliament), ranging from the well-known Kadima, Likud and Labor to a variety of lesser known parties that ran on an array of platforms from the rights of the disabled to legalizing cannabis. However, only twelve parties managed to garner enough votes to secure seats in the Knesset.
The incoming Knesset will have a solid right-wing bloc, made up of Likud with twenty-seven seats, Yisrael Beiteinu with fifteen seats, two ultra-Orthodox parties with sixteen seats and two smaller nationalist parties with seven seats. This bloc has four more than the sixty-one-seat threshold needed to form a coalition.

The center bloc was able to muster forty-one seats. This bloc consists of Kadima with twenty-eight seats and Labor with thirteen seats. The remaining fourteen seats were won by liberal, leftist and Arab national parties.

The results clearly testify to the fact that a large majority of the elected politicians are against an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement based on the two-state solution. Moreover, some parties have blatant neo-fascist tendencies. Yisrael Beiteinu, for example, ran under the banner of “no citizenship without loyalty,” and would like to strip any person who is critical of Israeli policies towards the Palestinians of their citizenship. People like me.

While the devastating effects of these elections on internal Israeli politics may not concern the international community, their repercussions for Israel’s relations with its neighbors–not least the Palestinians–should certainly concern world leaders and specifically President Barack Obama, who has already declared that Middle East stability and peace are vital to US interests.

Obama’s political vision has engendered hope not only in the United States, but around the world. My expectation is that he will make good on his promise for change and introduce a courageous initiative that will finally bring peace to Israelis and Palestinians. He has both an opportunity and a responsibility to do so.

The opportunity has arisen as a result of over eighteen years of political negotiations on the two-state solution (from the Madrid Conference in 1991, through Oslo, Camp David, Taba, and Annapolis) as well as the publication of promising initiatives (from the Geneva Initiative and the Arab Peace Initiative to the Nusseibeh and Ayalon Plan), which have clarified exactly what needs to be done in order to reach a peace settlement between the warring sides.

The two-state solution entails three central components:

1. Israel’s full withdrawal to the 1967 border with possible one per one land swaps so that ultimately the total amount of land that was occupied will be returned.

2. Jerusalem’s division according to the 1967 borders with certain land swaps to guarantee that each side has control over its own religious sites and large neighborhoods. These two components entail the dismantling of Israeli settlements and the return of the Jewish settlers to Israel.

3. The acknowledgment of the right of return of all Palestinians but with the following stipulation: While all Palestinians who so desire will be able to return to the fledgling Palestinian state, only a limited number agreed upon by the two sides will be allowed to return to Israel; those who cannot exercise this right or, alternatively, choose not to, will receive full compensation.

Obama’s responsibility arises from the fact that the only way to advance US regional interests and to provide real security for the two peoples is by having Israelis and Palestinians sign a comprehensive agreement of this kind. Taking into account the results of the current Israeli elections, Obama will have to neutralize the rejectionists in order to resolve this bloody conflict once and for all.

With determination and political boldness he can do just that. His administration will need to adopt the following strategy: First, the White House needs to draft a proposal using the above-mentioned guidelines. Second, the draft proposal should be submitted to the two sides so that each one can suggest minor alterations. Third, the Obama administration will have to hammer out a final proposal. Finally, this proposal should be publicized, with the US and international community applying pressure by declaring that the two parties will be rewarded if they support the initiative and penalized (economically and politically) if they do not.

The task might seem greater than it actually is, since ironically the majority of Jews (despite the elections) and Palestinians in the region support the two-state solution. The deadlock has occurred because the Israeli political configuration has allowed a sizable minority of settlers and their sympathizers to block all past governments from making the necessary compromises. This deadlock, however, can be overcome if the international community, and particularly the US, assumes a more interventionist role. And while intervention may be conceived by some as anti-Israeli, particularly if such intervention includes sanctions, it is the only way to secure Israel’s existence in the long run. Obama should not therefore hesitate to compel the incoming government to adopt the two-state solution. This would be the genuine pro-Israeli stance.

NEVE GORDON is chair of the department of politics and government at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and author of Israel’s Occupation (University of California Press, 2008).

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Neve Gordon is a Leverhulme Visiting Professor in the Department of Politics and International Studies and the co-author of The Human Right to Dominate.

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