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Both sides will reject it

Efraim Inbar

Having recently won the struggle for the Kadima party leadership, Shaul Mofaz now plans to position himself as a serious alternative to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. While the polls so far do not show any significant increase in Kadima's appeal to voters, Mofaz is a focused, hardworking politician who cannot easily be dismissed as a mere irritant to the Likud and Netanyahu, which seem to have a hold on the Israeli electorate. He has the necessary national security experience--as former Israel Defense Forces chief of staff and minister of defense--to take on the prime ministerial quest. Moreover, his non-Ashkenazi background could be useful in attracting Sephardi voters who are inclined to vote Likud.

Articles in this edition
Why we are closing - Yossi Alpher
The arc of the pendulum - Ghassan Khatib
Yet, if Mofaz wants to have a chance at making inroads at the center of the Israeli political map, his plan for a Palestinian state with temporary borders in the West Bank has to be dropped--for electoral as well as practical reasons. This plan includes additional territorial concessions (about ten percent of the West Bank) to the Palestinian Authority, and demands it take effective control over the Gaza Strip. Moreover, it commits Israel to almost full withdrawal to the 1967 lines plus land swaps to compensate the Palestinians for Israel's annexation of the settlement blocs.

Considering Israel's recent experience with withdrawals, Israelis are hardly in the mood to hand over more land to Palestinian control. The 2005 unilateral withdrawal from Gaza is largely perceived as a strategic fiasco--the land transferred to Palestinian control has become an Iranian proxy, a terrorist base and a launching pad for missiles against Israeli civilians. This pattern has repeated itself: first in southern Lebanon where Hizballah took over, then in Gaza where Hamas became the ruler.

Israelis are also very suspicious of Palestinian intentions in general. Polls indicate that although, in principle, Israelis are ready for territorial concessions, a large majority is very skeptical about the readiness of the Palestinian national movement to make a historic compromise with the Zionist movement. The continued Palestinian insistence on the "right of return" and claim to East Jerusalem are seen as insurmountable obstacles. Moreover, the Palestinian education system and its media are seen as agents for perpetuating the conflict by continuously denying Jewish rights to the Land of Israel, particularly Jerusalem and its Temple Mount.

The Palestinians' recently-adopted unilateral approach, which shies away from negotiations with Israel and appeals to the international community to force Israel to accept a fait accompli, only further strengthens the perception of Palestinian intransigence. Any Israeli concessions will be a hard sell in Israel as long as the Palestinians continue their Israel-bashing campaign at home and abroad. The Palestinians are not projecting an image of nice neighbors.

The Mofaz plan, basically a recipe for an interim agreement, tries to create a new diplomatic atmosphere by offering the Palestinians additional concessions (land and state recognition) without any reciprocal need to compromise on their demands. Mofaz is offering a much-enhanced Oslo package, under the assumption that the Palestinians will show some pragmatism in taking what is offered now, hoping to get more in the future. This step-by-step pragmatic approach is intended to prevent a crisis and buy time for the emergence of a political environment more conducive to an Israeli-Palestinian deal.

Alas, pragmatism has never been an element of Palestinian political culture. Indeed, the Mofaz plan and the idea of an additional interim agreement were vehemently rejected by the Palestinians who continue to adhere to a maximalist agenda. Even if Mofaz and his party become part of a future ruling coalition government in Israel, the Palestinians are unlikely to change their attitude.

The regional atmosphere is also not conducive to instilling pragmatism in the Palestinian camp. The "Arab spring," clearly a misnomer, heralded the ascendance of radical Islamist elements extremely hostile to the Jewish state. The new emerging elites are more supportive of Hamas, an organization dedicated to the destruction of Israel, than to the much-discredited Palestine Liberation Organization leadership. This leadership has sensed the regional change and has tried to reconcile with Hamas. This has not yet happened, but the mere increase in Hamas-Fateh contact is unlikely to ease Palestinian demands of Israel. Furthermore, the likelihood of a West Bank-Gaza reunification under the aegis of the "moderate" Palestinian forces, a little-noticed clause in the Mofaz plan, is probably zero.

The upheavals in the Arab world have also increased Israelis' threat perception, making them more inclined to insist on defensible borders and strict security arrangements. What they see is the continuous decline of much of the Arab world that fails to meet the challenges of modernization. Regional trends indicate increasing Islamization and fragmentation of the Arab states. The Palestinians actually pioneered these trends when Hamas won the January 2006 elections and then broke away from the Palestinian Authority in June 2007 with its Gaza coup. This does not turn the Palestinians into good partners for the Mofaz plan or for any other peace plan.-Published 23/4/2012 © bitterlemons.org

Efraim Inbar is professor of political studies and director of the Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University.
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