Israel heatedly debates peace process, as Kerry returns

Thursday, May 23, 2013 |  Ryan Jones

Israel's government this week heatedly debated how and if to restart peace negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, as US Secretary of State John Kerry returned to the region to continue pushing the two sides back to the table.

Meeting with Kerry in Jerusalem on Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel "wants to restart the peace talks with the Palestinians. ...I hope the Palestinians want [this] as well...we ought to be successful for a simple reason: When there’s a will, we’ll find a way."

But fiery discussions in the Knesset earlier in the week put an end to any illusions that Israel's new government is anywhere close to a unified position regarding the peace process.

At a meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Tuesday, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said the government's goal was to restart peace talks with the Palestinians as soon as possible.

Just days earlier Livni had told Army Radio that there is no chance of reaching a peace deal with Hamas, with which the Palestinian Authority continues to seek reconciliation, and which Palestinian voters continuously put into power.

Nevertheless, Livni insisted that birthing a Palestinian state is in Israel's interests, and that this is the baseline of renewed peace talks. More right-wing members of the government countered by stating that a two-state solution was not an official policy, even if it had been accepted by individual members of the government.

"Two states for two peoples is not the government's official position," said MK Orit Strock of the Jewish Home party, interrupting Livni. "It is not part of the government's guiding principles, and for good reason. This is perhaps Netanyahu's position and your position, but it has not been accepted as the government's position."

MK Moti Yogev, also of Jewish Home, added that "two nations for two peoples is disconnected from reality."

Members of the centrist Yesh Atid party questioned how Israel could expect the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table if Israel's government had not come to a consensus that it accepts a Palestinian state? Jewish Home members suggested that this was precisely the point, and that official acceptance of a Palestinian state had been purposely left out of the new government's guiding principles.

Committee chairman and former Foreign Minister MK Avigdor Lieberman (Israel Beiteinu) stepped in noting that even for those who prefer simply to manage the conflict and realize true peace might not be achievable, Israel still must return to negotiations to prevent outside forces from imposing a solution.

Livni made one last effort at what appeared to be scare-mongering, claiming that "not reaching an agreement with the Palestinians will lead to the end of Zionism."

Strock responded that Israel must not be afraid because "this is our land," to which Livni quipped, "This is our land, but the question is if this state will remain ours or not."

Meanwhile, those insisting that the land-for-peace process is the only way forward continued to ignore what the Palestinians themselves are saying amongst themselves.

Over 61 percent of Palestinians responding to a global survey by the Pew Research Center said a Palestinian state will not live in peaceful coexistence with Israel, while a 67 percent majority said violence should be used to achieve Palestinian goals.

Forty-eight percent of Palestinian voters said they still hold a favorable view of Hamas, while 56 percent like the even more radical Islamic Jihad.

As Israeli Ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor noted on Monday, the true obstacle to peace is that Palestinian society has never been educated to live in peace with Israel, and so it never will.

"The more the Palestinian people continue to fertilize the land with hatred of Israel, the smaller the chance that the seeds of peace in the Middle East will sprout and take root," Prosor said during an exchange with Palestinian Authority negotiator Saeb Erekat.

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