April 23, 2009
By Gideon Levy
Lord have mercy: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has relinquished for the moment his demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as “a Jewish state” as a condition for negotiations. He has deigned to postpone the demand until future stages. Listen up, world: Perhaps, just perhaps, Netanyahu will also see fit to utter the forbidden phrase “two states for two peoples.”
The slogan of yesterday’s illegitimate radical left will be heard publicly in Washington from the mouth of Israel’s most right-wing prime minister ever, and everyone will sing the praises of the historic turnaround. The diplomatic process will again take wing and the expectations will soar. Peace is just around the corner.
Once again the diplomatic arena has become a playground of words. This will be said and that will be declared and the other will be proclaimed. This is a guarantee of another foregone failure.
Whether or not Netanyahu says two states, nothing will change. The Americans will rejoice, the Europeans will be thrilled, the Israeli right will wax wrathful, commentators will again write with pathos about how the dream of the greater land of Israel has been shelved – and the occupation will flourish.
The Jewish settlements in the territories will also continue to metastasize. After all, most Israelis, and at least two prime ministers and two leaders of the opposition, already said yes to the formula for peace long ago, and nothing has happened.
No less contemptible are the word games over the desired recognition of Israel: For a generation now we have been amusing ourselves with them. The silly game should have ended 16 years ago, and we are still at it. In September of 1993, Yasser Arafat promised prime minister Yitzhak Rabin that the Palestine Liberation Organization would recognize Israel; three years later, in April 1996, the Palestinian National Council convened and ratified the recognition.
The barrage of words demanding a change in the charter should have stopped right away, but the Israeli longing for recognition was not satisfied. Two years later, in December 1998, U.S. president Bill Clinton went all the way to Gaza and there, at a formal session of the Palestinian National Council, no less than 12 terrible clauses were deleted from the Palestinian Charter (phooey on it) and along with them, another 16 sub-clauses.
Huge rejoicing. Council member Jawad al-Tibi from Gaza said that he had voted with his feet, not only his hand. At that time the prime minister was none other than Netanyahu, the same Netanyahu who is again trying to squeeze out another unnecessary recognition. After the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state there will no doubt come the demand to recognize Saturday as its day of rest, and after that perhaps also a demand for Palestinian recognition of the law prohibiting the display of leaven during Passover.
But we aren’t talking about having fun here, rather about fateful issues. Only those who want to prevent progress are engaging in these vanities of recognition, and only a country with especially limp self-confidence needs recognition of its national character at all.
Is it conceivable that France would demand recognition as a French state? Or Italy as an Italian state? And from whom are we demanding the recognition? From those who have been groaning under the boots of the occupation for more than 40 years now.
In the meantime, one begins to fear that another promising American president, perhaps the most promising of all, is about to fall into the honey trap of words and formulas. This president should be told now is not a time for words. Their time has passed. No more peace plan and – heavens forefend – not another outline; not negotiations, not a formula and not a summit.
All the plans are in a drawer, waiting for their day. Now is the time for deeds.
The only recognition that is needed now is Israel’s recognition of the Palestinians as human beings. If this is obtained, all the rest will be relatively easy. The day will come when Israelis and Palestinians will not understand how they shed blood for so many years and why, but this day is further off than ever.
Now the time has come for the test of actions. Instead of wasting precious time on formulas, we need to take steps. Instead of dithering over verbiage, we need to make changes on the ground.
Twenty evacuated settlements are worth more than a thousand peace formulas, and 2,000 released prisoners will move the sides forward more than 10,000 words.
If only Israel agrees to implement what it has agreed to, from the release of prisoners to a freeze on settlements, it will be possible to come to the Palestinians with demands.
To paraphrase David Ben-Gurion, it is necessary to tell the president of the United States now that it doesn’t matter what the Jews say, it matters what they do.