Uri Savir
The Jerusalem Post (Opinion)
September 15, 2011 - 12:00am

On November 29, 1947, the people of the future Israel were glued to the radio, listening to the United Nations vote on the partition of Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab state. We can still hear in our collective memory the speaker announce – “Soviet Union – Yes, United States – Yes” and then the majority affirmative vote.

The Jewish state, Israel, was on the brink of being reborn. The Arab states were on the brink of committing one of their gravest historical mistakes – by rejecting the resolution they in fact rejected the creation of an Arab state in Palestine, and opted for war and catastrophe. They managed to turn the Western world against them.

On September 23, 2011, another vote will take place on the partition of historical Palestine, this time between Israel and a new independent Palestinian state, the result of years of stalemate in the political peace process. The world will again vote a resounding “Yes,” with the exception of some of Israel’s best friends – the United States, Germany, perhaps the United Kingdom.

It is taken for granted that Israel will vote “No,” but, while direct negotiations are greatly preferable, I am fully in favor of an Israeli September surprise, for Israel to vote “Yes.” The prime minister can thereafter make a speech outlining reservations regarding borders, security, Jerusalem etc., but to the principle of a Palestinian state we can, indeed we must, vote “Yes.” Otherwise, history may repeat itself. Only this time, we will be the rejectionists, confronted by a world turned against us and an American president frustrated into isolation by us, all for a resolution which is declarative in nature.

Come September 23, Palestinians will be glued to their TV sets, rejoice, and then discover that nothing much has changed on the ground. Their frustration may turn into an uprising, probably a non-violent one. For once, we should use some diplomatic creativity, so rare in the age of Bibi-Lieberman, and turn this resolution into a resolution of principle – “Yes” or “No” to a Palestinian state – and an opening to direct negotiations on all core permanent status issues. With this we will turn the world, led by the United States, in our favor.

Above all, “Yes” would be an honest vote, as the creation of a Palestinian state is very much an Israeli interest, for several reasons: If there is no Palestine, there will not be a democratic Israel with a Jewish majority. Between the sea and the Jordan River, there will be an Arab majority.

This would turn the land into a binational state, probably without equal rights to Arabs. An apartheid state could never be a Jewish state.

A Palestinian state would be demilitarized, as they have agreed, so that from a security point of view, this is also in our favor.

In the aftermath of the Arab Spring, Arab public opinion has gained importance – specifically that of the young generation. Leaders will look to them before making decisions and this public cares deeply about the fate of the Palestinians living under occupation. If we want to promote regional security, including our relations with Egypt, we have a great self-interest in being seen as desiring a peaceful settlement with a Palestinian state.

Perhaps the most important consideration in favor of a Palestinian state, however, is the moral one.

Israel’s strength is not just that of its army, it is primarily a function of its values, whether universal or Jewish.

We have gained our place under the sun for having developed a western, vibrant democracy, with a fundamental respect for diversity and human rights, as stated in our Declaration of Independence.

Yet these values have been challenged since our great military victory in 1967. While we survived an Arab assault on our very existence, the dramatic military blitz of the Six Day War left us enamored with physical force and turned us overnight into an occupying power over a vast Palestinian population. Whatever the justifications for the 1967 war were, we have trapped ourselves, as figures such as David Ben-Gurion and Yeshayahu Leibowitz had warned, in an occupation that dangerously erodes our moral values.

You cannot control the destiny and daily lives of another people without damaging severely the respect for human and civil rights, first vis-à-vis the Palestinians and subsequently also domestically. We have become the victims of our triumph. Only an independent neighbor at our side can resolve this predicament.

From a socioeconomic perspective, we also have an interest in peace with a Palestinian neighbor state – the social rebellion of the young generation of Rothschild Boulevard that brought nearly half a million people to the streets demanding social justice, has an inherent correlation to the issue of peace. Without peace with a Palestinian state, the cost of the settlements and their security, and the magnitude of the general defense budget, will not allow the desired reforms.

In addition, Israel is a small country which has thrived due not only to its formidable achievements but also thanks to tremendous international support. In recent years this support has been deeply eroded chiefly because the western world does not accept the ongoing occupation.

We are increasingly isolated in the West, in danger of being delegitimized even in European countries.

This is dangerous to our national security but redeemable, by way of a real peace process, sharing the land between two nation states.

All of this does not mean that the Palestinians are a fault-free or easy partner. They have committed their share of mistakes. It also does not mean that in a peace process we do not have legitimate demands on which we must insist, such as security arrangements, west Jerusalem as our capital and the prevention of the Palestinian right of return to the State of Israel. It does however mean that we have to make courageous decisions – the first one being to support at the UN the creation in principle of a Palestinian state – to vote “Yes” on a resolution, while insisting that such a resolution lead to immediate direct negotiations, most probably on borders based on the 1967 lines.

Returning by and large to these lines will, under conditions of peace, only strengthen Israel politically, militarily, socially, economically and morally. Therefore, on September 23, we must vote “Yes.”

The writer is the president of the Peres Center for Peace and served as Israel’s chief negotiator of the Oslo Accords.


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