Rosenblum straight talks on complexities of Israeli-Palestinian impasse

Screen Shot 2015-11-17 at 11.08.53 AMThe best hope for a breakthrough in the Israeli-Palestinian stand-off is via the Saudi-sponsored Arab League Peace Initiative, Prof. Mark Rosenblum told audiences in Toronto and Ottawa last week. Relations between the two peoples, both at the leadership and at the “street” level, have become so poisoned that neither side would be likely to trust overtures by the other, even if any such positive moves were forthcoming. But none are. Instead, both sides have become more deeply entrenched in hard-line positions than ever.

Prof. Rosenblum is founder of Americans for Peace Now and an award-winning historian at Queens College, City University of New York. His visit to Canada was organized by Canadian Friends of Peace Now.

A highly respected Middle East expert and compelling speaker, Rosenblum outlined the many obstacles to Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation, but he also offered a few glimmers of what he calls “hope without delusion.”

One huge obstacle is poor leadership, Rosenblum said. The Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, demonstrated in his recent, highly mendacious speech to the UN, that he has no interest in reaching out to Israelis. He is scorned by Israel, but his failure to improve anything for Palestinians makes him a lame duck among his own people as well. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is a consummate politician, rather than a statesman. He soon will have managed to stay in power longer than any of his predecessors, but he has no vision for his country, refuses to confront the reality of Israel’s self-defeating Occupation and engages in alarmist rhetoric and provocative tactics. He “plays to the hard right” of the Israeli electorate, because that is the greatest threat to his continuation in office.

Complicating the picture is the deep rift between Abbas’ Fatah party and Hamas. The enmity between them makes it easy for Netanyahu to disengage and feeds Palestinian despair. Corruption in both Fatah and Hamas, along with the hardship of Occupation, has led to Palestinian despondency and cynicism, which in turn have helped birth the latest “knife intifada” – the daily acts of violence by “lone wolf” Palestinians against Israeli Jews. The new wave of violence shows Israelis “what a one-state solution would look like,” Rosenblum said. It is a preview to the never-ending civil war that would result from de facto annexation of Palestinian territory.

In addition, the violent conflicts in various Arab countries are having dangerous ripple effects throughout the Middle East. The collapse of nation states – most notably Syria – has enabled the proliferation of lawless, warring, uncontrollable terrorist groups and created a huge refugee problem. The wider chaos has overshadowed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. International interest in brokering peace between Israelis and Palestinians has been diverted to the bigger catastrophes. And so the Palestinian issue has been allowed to fester, which does not serve Israel’s long-term interests.

However, the changing Arab world also opens up an important opportunity, Roseblum said. Saudi Arabia, fearing Iran’s hegemonic ambitions, is interested in a strategic alliance with Israel. Its Arab League Peace Initiative, launched in 2002 and amended three times, offers Israel peace with a large swath of the Arab world in exchange for implementing the two-state solution. The latest amendments provide for land swaps between Israel and Palestine that would allow large settlement blocs to remain in Israel. Plus, there is language that could be used to resolve the thorny “right of return” issue. With such wider Arab backing, a Palestinian leader could be persuaded to stick his neck out and take a chance on steps towards peace. Unfortunately, Netanyahu has not recently shown any interest in encouraging this opportunity.

Prof. Rosenblum’s glimmers of hope also included a couple of outstanding individuals in the Israeli-Palestinian drama. One is Ayman Odeh, leader of the Joint List, the new unified Israeli Arab party, who could potentially lead a movement of greater cooperation between Israeli Arabs and Jews. If he could win Jewish trust and be considered a partner in a governing coalition, the right-wing stranglehold on Israeli politics could be broken. Rosenblum qualified his praise of Odeh by saying the Joint List leader needs to speak out more strongly against the daily knifings of his fellow citizens to gain credibility among Jews. Another bright spot is Bashar Masri, a Palestinian entrepreneur who has built Rawabi, a planned, modern and “stunning” city in the West Bank and who has financed other major Palestinian state-building enterprises. Masri has done all this in cooperation with Israelis on the “right side” of the green line, in contrast with the general trend among Palestinians to spurn anything that smacks of “normalization” with Israelis. By doing so Masri has demonstrated courageous, far-sighted leadership.

Masri’s initiatives are an endorsement of the two-state solution – the only way forward – Rosenblum stressed, though it must be built step-by-step, with solid security arrangements to ensure a viable, peaceful Palestine alongside Israel.

Events with Yuval Rabin fill halls, draw media interest

Screen Shot 2015-10-28 at 7.26.31 PMYuval Rabin, son of Yitzhak Rabin, spoke to capacity-filled venues in Montreal and Ottawa on Oct. 14 and 15, in events organized by Canadian Friends of Peace Now to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the late Israeli prime minister’s assassination.

Rabin stressed the need for negotiations and diplomacy in dealing with the Palestinians, rather than relying on force alone. Continuing the Occupation and merely “managing” the situation through mailed-fist tactics is the road to disaster, he said. He called for a regional approach to breaking through the stalemate by enlisting support from a number of Arab countries whose strategic interests have become more aligned with Israel’s in recent years. The idea is the core of the Israeli Peace Initiative, which Rabin, along with a number of prominent Israelis, launched in 2011 to prod their government towards a new paradigm for seeking peace.

“There’s no hope for Israel from the Sea to the Jordan Valley controlled by a Jewish minority – that’s not the Zionist vision,” Rabin said. “There’s no hope to end the conflict without a Palestinian state. There will be no Palestinian state without regional arrangements.”

Regional support is essential, he said, because the Palestinians on their own are incapable of making the necessary concessions that would lead to an agreement. The backing of significant Arab powers in the region could make such concessions more possible and help bridge the deep Israeli-Palestinian divide.

Rabin said his father was uncompromising on Israel’s security and committed to its military strength. But he also understood the need to end Israeli rule over the Palestinians to preserve the existence of a democratic Jewish state. In paying homage to his father’s legacy, Rabin also spoke of the poisoned atmosphere – the right-wing incitement – that “paved the way for the assassin.” Tragically, he said, such incitement against more moderate Jews continues today, along with violent sentiments and sometimes violent acts directed at Arabs.

Equally tragic is that most Israelis are stuck in a dangerous rut. In times of quiet, they ignore the Palestinian issue and when violence breaks out, they argue “there is no partner.” For its own interests, Rabin said, Israel must take pro-active steps towards peace.