Uri Savir
The Jerusalem Post (Opinion)
October 7, 2011 - 12:00am

We are inundated with analysis in these days of soul-searching, regarding all the important issues that determine our well-being as a country in crisis in a tumultuous Middle East. Everyone seems to have a recipe for a better tomorrow.

For Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu the magic wand is better hasbara – if we would just succeed to tell the world the “truth,” we would convince it to support Israel, except for Muslims and anti-Semites of course. From foreign policy to speechology.

For President Mahmoud Abbas the remedy for all the grievances of the Palestinians is the international community and the UN, from bilateral peace talks to multilateral gatherings.

For Egypt’s new, temporary leadership, which is facing growing social-political frustration from the Tahrir youth and calls to cancel the peace treaty with Israel, the path is to create almost an impossible coalition of opposing forces, of military rule, Muslim Brotherhood and pro-democracy forces.

For President Barack Obama it seems to be election time – Obama 2012. A leader who brought great new hope to his country and the world, has to confront a legacy of economic crises and radical rightwing populist – Tea Party-like – opposition. So he opted to distance himself from effective peace initiatives in the Middle East, for consensus speeches, in the process losing the Arab world, yet probably gaining the Jewish vote.

Also on the Israeli domestic front we have new formulas for a better future. The Rothschild Boulevard protest movement, that brought hundreds of thousands to the streets calling for social justice, is today negating the Trajtenberg Committee recommendations, without any concrete results. In the footsteps of this call for social democracy come the new wizard of Israeli politics, Shelly Yacimovich, the new leader of the Labor Party, with a dramatic rise in the polls. Strong and genuine on popular social justice, but hesitant on controversial peace issues.

All of the above mentioned players have something in common – their solutions for the future are at best partial, and lack a key element that will lead our country and region to a better future – a viable, real Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

As for Netanyahu, he has delivered a populist speech at the UN, is doing better in the polls, yet our security has not been strengthened and our economy has not improved. For this to happen, Bibi has to transform from speechmaker to peacemaker.

The stalemate in the peace process has brought about a dangerous distancing of our two peace partners, Egypt and Jordan, not to mention Turkey and even the European Union. Those in charge of our security establishment are more worried than ever – about a violent deterioration in the region. Those in charge of bringing about a better economy and social justice, want to cut the defense budget significantly. The missing link is a courageous decision on peacemaking.

As for Abbas, while a moderate and anti-violence partner, he has opted for the international community to bring about a Palestinian state. Yet obviously with no result, except that he, like Netanyahu, is now more popular. The road to a viable Palestinian state, with a new, modern economy, does not pass through First Avenue in New York – but via the road between Ramallah and Jerusalem. Without a peace agreement with Israel there is no Palestine, as without a neighboring Palestinian state there is no democratic, Jewish Israel.

As for the Egyptian leadership (and the same can be said for Jordan), social and economic stability cannot be maintained or created without sticking to the peace strategy with Israel.

As for Obama – he had brought renewed hope to the region with his Cairo speech in 2009 and the Middle East vision he proclaimed at the State Department in May this year: A two-state solution based on the 1967 boundaries.

Today we witness more Obama the politician than the brilliant statesman he is. His focus is more domestic than international. But even he must understand that the American posture in the world, and to some degree its economic strength, is also dependent on where an unstable Middle East will go.

It is therefore to be hoped that even in an election year the Obama administration will act energetically in favor of a realistic peace process, for the sake of stability in the Middle East and the world.

In Israel, the Rothschild Boulevard protest youth has deeply affected the social-economic agenda of the country, towards welfare and social democracy and greater respect for the young middle class, politically and economically.

Last week, an impressive Prof. Manuel Trajtenberg tried in vain to square the circle in improving the standard of living of the middle class without any significant structural economic changes.

The leadership of the protest movement expresses disappointment and calls for much more drastic measures, such as opening the state budget framework.

Both miss a main point. As long as Israel’s economy is a war and occupation economy – there simply will not be enough resources for the middle class. The attempt to separate between social justice and peace is bound to fail. An Israel with such a large defense budget and enormous expenditure in the West Bank for security and settlers can only make cosmetic socioeconomic changes. Only a viable, genuine peace process with the Palestinians, which will temper the regional strategic threats to Israel – can bring about, gradually, a change in economic policies and outlook. This must be recognized by the protest movement, at the expense of the “sacred consensus.”

Much of the same can be said of the new Labor Party leader. Yacimovich must continue in the footsteps of her predecessors Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, who combined active peacemaking with economic justice and growth.

A real peace initiative from Israel is not only necessary, but can succeed. It needs to recognize the 1967 lines as the basis of negotiations and a freeze of settlement expansion according to the road map. Partnerships in peace are not achieved by misguided analysis, but by courageous policies. And Abbas is such a partner, as in demands he is very close to the visions of peace of Clinton and Obama. Time is of the essence – primarily because of the shifting winds in the Arab world and election years in the United States and Israel. A peace process that is key for security, international recognition, regional stability, American leadership, social justice and economic growth.

Netanyahu, Abbas, Gen. Mohamed Tantawi, Obama – and even Dafni Leef and Yacimovich – had better understand this sooner rather than later. It’s about peace.


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