Friday August 29, 2014
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29.08.2014
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Dan Margalit

Considering the Ben-Gurion model

This week saw the latest and most important round to date in U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's shuttle diplomacy efforts. We got headlines full of truths, lies and falsehoods, provided in good faith or otherwise, and trial balloons filled will spins making it difficult to distinguish between the essential and the unimportant.

Ministers and other senior defense establishment officials are watching Kerry and his two partners in dialogue, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. They are guessing more than knowing, but they understand that something is brewing and that as a result something tangible will happen -- either a deal or a thunderous explosion.

This uncertainty is accompanied by anxiety, which is why Habayit Hayehudi Chairman Naftali Bennett is threatening to disband the coalition, why Likud MK Miri Regev (who needs to relax a bit) has been feverishly proposing new laws, why Justice Minister Tzipi Livni is all stressed out, and why Yaakov Peri, a minister from her own Hatnuah party, is of all things questioning what Netanyahu has managed to state clearly -- that he does not intend to abandon Hebron.

The headlines from this week were plentiful: Kerry attempted to persuade Saudi Arabia and the Jordanians to engage in a heart-to-heart with Abbas and convince him to recognize Israel as a Jewish state; he tried to cajole a promise from Netanyahu to take in 80,000 descendants of Palestinian refugees from 1948; and the Israel Defense Forces will be allowed to patrol along the Jordan River but not alone -- the army would be accompanied by Jordanian and American contingents as well as Palestinian observers. And Netanyahu declared that he will not evacuate any community, but there are empty areas inside Israel, and does this mean that the settlers who live outside the large blocs will be offered the option of remaining under Palestinian sovereignty? And how does this coincide with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's comments this week that Highway 6 will be Israel's future eastern border?

This is dialogue taking place in a whirlwind. When former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said that only a "fool" of a prime minister would not pursue peace -- does that include him as well? Or did he try only to see Abbas run away, with Olmert screaming after him to come back, his cries heard all way in Ramallah that no Israeli government will ever offer him something more generous. So who here is the "fool?"

Seriously though: Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon -- who in his book "The Long Short Road" outlined the view that there is no Palestinian partner for peace and that Israel must settle for crisis management -- presented a thesis that is wrong and right in the same breath: In the choice between missiles fired at Ben-Gurion International Airport or a European boycott -- he prefers the hardships posed by a boycott. This, in theory, seems the obvious preference -- the consensus. However, this one voice would like to venture a question: Is this really preferable?

Israel knows how to deal with rocket launchers. Especially when it comes to a launch from our neighbor Palestine, which according to a deal would be demilitarized. In any case, if the airport is damaged, the IDF will make sure that no flights take off from any airports in the Middle East. But does Israel know how to cope with being boycotted by the largest continent for its exports? Does it know how to deal with a major Dutch pension firm divesting [LINK 'divesting': http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/01/08/netherlands-israel-divestment-idUSL6N0KI1N220140108 ] from five Israeli banks due to Israel's settlement policy? The answer to the equation posited by Ya'alon is not so cut and dry.

Hundreds of these types of problems have always been clarified by one formula: Security arrangements and a comprehensive peace that includes recognition of Israel as a Jewish state in exchange for territories for the Palestinians. But because Israel remembers the conduct of Yasser Arafat and Abbas following the signing of the 1993 Oslo Accords and the generous concessions made by former Prime Ministers Ehud Barak (2000) and Olmert (2009) -- it would behoove us to consider a model whereby in exchange for making concessions in a number of areas we receive more than just a cease-fire in return.

If we are pleasantly surprised and the situation unfolds toward real peace -- that is wonderful. The European Union is proposing far-reaching compensation for Israel's economy in exchange for an arrangement with the Palestinians. But assuming that Abbas does not want or cannot deliver peace -- it will reorganize itself according to the model it adopted after the Sinai Campaign in 1957. The military victory was spectacular, but then (like now) David Ben-Gurion was heavily pressured by the international community and he had to fall back in exchange for an American promise of peace that proved to be empty. He achieved the demilitarization of the Sinai Peninsula and the introduction of U.N. forces there, as well as a promise that Egypt would cease blocking the Straits of Tiran. The bulk of the achievement was 11 years of quiet, which was disturbed only during skirmishes with Syria over water sources.

What happened during those 11 years? Israel jumped up a few levels. Under the calm the IDF opened a significant gap in capabilities compared to the Arab armies; Israel became, according to foreign reports, a nuclear power in Dimona; its burgeoning military industry opened up new markets all over the world; the National Water Carrier put Israel on the world's agriculture map; Africa courted after Golda Meir; the gates of the Maghreb opened to allow the Jewish masses to immigrate to Israel; industrial developments coincided with breakthroughs in academia, which granted Israeli universities unique status; and the cultural boom included Shai Agnon receiving the Nobel Prize in literature, the first time the prestigious award was granted for works in the Hebrew language. This is just a small taste.

Ben-Gurion's model extended a hand of peace toward the enemy, while feverishly working to develop the country in all fields because the enemy never returned the gesture. Could we return to "our days of glory" across a number of fields if the country retains more resources than it had on the eve of the Six-Day War, but less than it has held from then until now? And in light of positive developments in the Arab world and promises from the EU to grant Israel special status similar to Turkey -- perhaps it is worth returning back -- with the appropriate recalibrations -- to the 1957 model? We must discuss this and make it an option for those conducting negotiation on our behalf so they can ignore the cries of the demagogues.

This is especially pertinent because the centrality of international law and the economic dependence on the on the West have grown exponentially -- having nothing to do with the Palestinians -- now is the right time to welcome Israel as a legitimate neighbor and it would be a shame to miss the opportunity. Almost as badly as Israel needs peace (if this is even possible), it needs tasks and missions, which it can do alone and which can provide an abundance of achievements.

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