In Haaretz (Israel)
November 15, 2007
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has been speaking enthusiastically about "two states, two nations" ever since her conversion from the Greater Israel ideology. She can easily convince people why Israel must have a right of return only for Jews, while an independent Palestine would grant the same right only to Palestinians.
Like Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Livni has realized belatedly that this is the only way two democratic nation states could survive. This simple, rational idea could have been implemented easily had not Israel's leaders rejected it for generations - for 40 years the border line has been obstructed by settlement building.
Now on the eve of the Annapolis conference, Israel has suddenly come up with the absurd demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state - after Israel's own leaders have done everything in their power to sabotage it.
It is easy to speak about a Jewish state, but difficult to find the political courage required to do what it takes: Settlements scattered in the heart of the Palestinian population make it impossible to separate between Israel and Palestine along a plausible and viable border. With each passing day and each passing year, every settlement expansion, every outpost and every road built to reach it disrupt the chance to separate the two nations.
Therefore suspending construction in the settlements is not a prize for the Palestinians ahead of one agreement or another, but a life-saving medicine for Israel. It is already difficult to delineate a border between the Etzion, Ariel and Ma'aleh Adumim settlement blocs as the building boundaries within them keep expanding, with a wink at Washington.
Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are demanding that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state, but they should direct this demand at the Israelis. Another conference and another negotiation, another trip and another draft agreement, another escape from addressing the core issues, as though there is anything else to talk about. The Israelis, not Palestinians, are making the vision of the Jewish state impossible. A law tying the government's hands vis-a-vis concessions in Jerusalem passed the Knesset in a preliminary reading, as though Israel's interest is to annex East Jerusalem with its hundreds of thousands of Palestinians.
For religious fanatics on both sides, the existing solution is charmingly simple. Islamists want a Muslim state on all the area they consider sacred. Right-wing religious Israelis want a halakhic Jewish state on all the area they regard as sacred. The only problem is, both mean the same "holy ground." So the longer partition is postponed, the nearer draws the possibility of bloody messianic chaos.
Avoiding a debate on the core issues in Annapolis is not an Israeli achievement. It is an escape from the main issues, stemming from political cowardice. Every additional round of futile talks is pushing Israel farther away from determining its borders and fate.