Ari Shavit
Haaretz (Opinion)
April 21, 2011 - 12:00am

Just like the Palestinians, we never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. Time after time, we reject the complex diplomatic proposal that has been placed on the table. Time after time, the next proposal is more difficult than its predecessor. Although time is against us, we recklessly refuse to realize this. We refuse today what we will ask for tomorrow and what will cause us regret the day after tomorrow.

In 1987, Israel did not move ahead on a peace agreement that might have have been signed with King Hussein. In 1991, Israel did not reach an autonomy agreement that it might have been able to reach with the Palestinian leadership in the territories. In 1993, Israel did not demand that mutual recognition between it and the Palestinian Liberation Organization be immediately turned into a final-status agreement. In 1995, Israel did not try to implement the Abbas-Beilin understandings. In 2002, Israel did not propose its own initiative to counter the Arab peace initiative. In 2005, Israel did not leverage disengagement to determine a defensible border that would divide the land.

Because of greed and hesitation, we always did too little too late. Because we tried to have it all, we have attained little. Because we tried to expand our border, we have narrowed it. Deplorable foot-dragging has caused us irreversible diplomatic damage.

Make no mistake: It is not at all certain that at any one of the tests over the past quarter-century, Israel had a partner. It is unclear whether King Hussein, Faisal Husseini, Yasser Arafat, Mahmoud Abbas and the Arab League were partners for peace. But the moment to test Husseini was the year of the Madrid Conference. The moment to test Arafat was the great summer of Oslo. The moment to test Abbas was the winter after Rabin's assassination. The right time to test the Arab League and the international community would have been right after disengagement. Israel did not act at the right time and the right place to put its enemies and allies to the true test.

The outcome is an avalanche. The more time that passes, the more the Jewish national movement retreats and the stronger the Palestinian national movement becomes. International support for Zionism has eroded while Israel's security and demographic situation grows worse.

What Israel could have gotten from Jordan we are unlikely to get from the PLO and will not be able to get from Hamas. What we could have gotten from Clinton, it is doubtful we can get from Obama and impossible to get from his successors. What we could have gotten from the international community in exchange for a major withdrawal in 1990, in 2000 and in 2005, we cannot get now. The slope is not only slippery, it is also steep.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should understand the process well. The statesman who was once a Greater Land of Israel man now has the views of one of Labor's early predecessors, Ahdut Ha'avoda. His fondest dream is the Allon Plan to partition the West Bank. His red lines are Rabin's lines. What deputy foreign minister Netanyahu rejected point-blank in 1991, Prime Minister Netanyahu is enthusiastically prepared to adopt in 2011. But even during his two years in leadership, Netanyahu has continued to stall and stall - and stall. He did not produce a daring diplomatic plan following his Bar-Ilan speech. He did not propose the establishment of a demilitarized and limited Palestinian state last summer. He allowed Obama, Abbas and time to wreak havoc on him. He brought Israel to a point in which time, which is working against it, could be its undoing.

The opportunity of the summer of 2011 differs from all previous ones. This time, it is not a chance to make peace, but to avoid defeat; not the chance to end the conflict with the Arabs but to work with the international community to firmly establish the Jewish state's right and ability to exist. But to implement even this modest opportunity, we will have to pay. It must be made clear that Israel will not rule over another people, and that under the right conditions and at the right time, Israel will withdraw to adjusted 1967 borders. The payment required is costly and painful. For Prime Minister Netanyahu, the chance of the summer of 2011 is the last chance.


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