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Half Full Cup

By Daniel Levy, The Philadelphia Jewish Voice,  25.08.08


I think there’s a story of a half full cup to be told, and I think it’s quite a useful way of framing things. The very existence of the Kadima Party – I think one shouldn’t underestimate how significant it is that a group of people with deep revisionist backgrounds, the princes and princesses of the Likud, who formed a party predicated on the need to get out of Gaza, the recognition that we can’t have an Israel which is in occupation, occupying in perpetuity.
Also, the fact that the negotiations have been resumed on permanent status issues after such a long hiatus that what we did the Geneva Initiative. At the time, our hope and our belief was that when the day comes around that there would again be permanent status negotiations, Geneva would be on the table – and I say without hesitation that that is now the case.
A second piece of good news is that the basis on which Israel is currently negotiating with the Palestinians is far more realistic than it was under Barak.
The third piece of good news is the Gaza ceasefire, which is terribly fragile at the moment, but is a moment of realism from the Israeli side.
But Israel still hasn’t found the political courage to go the extra mile, to translate the realization that peace requires two states, an end to occupation and a viable Palestinian state neighboring Israel. In order for Israel to continue as a democratic and Jewish state, that realization has to be translated into: well, ok, you asked for this – tell the truth to your public and tell the truth to yourselves.
People who have made that journey from the right quite often find that going that final few yards is the most difficult part of the journey – but that’s what’s going to be necessary to clinch the deal. Unfortunately there’s still a deep contradiction in Israeli society, so even if you have leadership that talks the way these guys often do about settlements – the settlements are still being expanded. Even if you have leadership that talks about the need to strengthen Abbas – you still basically destroyed him and Fatah as a viable unique Palestinian leadership.
Part of why Israel is doing this ceasefire with Hamas is that so when, inevitably, there is a military operation in Gaza that won’t look pretty, at least we can say to our public and to the international community: "We tried the ceasefire first." There are people in the Israeli side who want the “this can’t work.” Those people who believe that won’t want to be proven wrong.
Let’s be clear: Yes, Hamas will be preparing itself for the eventuality that there will be another round of violence, and I think it’s not a secret – so will Israel. On both sides they would be crazy not to be doing that.at calming the northern front by engaging with Syria is a valid and worthy exercise and goal. I think it’s designed to make things a bit more difficult for Hezbollah, and also add some more calculations onto Hamas’s thinking and obviously to have an effect vis-?-vis Iran. So I think those are signals being sent.
Finally, in Israel and the U.S., I think there is a space being opened in the discourse that hasn’t been there in previous years and in part, it’s a result of your work and others’ work, and in part a result of the unfortunate circumstances in which we live, and the unfortunate developments in American policy in the Middle East.
Lately, we’ve had leading pro-Israeli commentators openly writing about their concerns that America is sometimes not a tough enough friend to Israel, and we’ve seen a presidential candidate of a major party go to AIPAC, and sure, threw some red meat, but also give something that would be considered very counterintuitive to where that organization was going last year – to go to that conference and explain why the Iraq war is not only bad for America and American national interests, but also why it’s bad for Israel and Israeli interests, and explain that this is something we need to be thinking about as friends of Israel. And he further said that the Israeli-Palestinian peace process has to be a priority at the beginning of an administration, not in year seven. I think this is demonstrative of a new narrative, a narrative that is far more mainstream than it was in the past. Which I think means there is a new receptivity to our message, to your message.
However, we need to recognize that the moment of a unipolar world, and unchallenged and untrammeled American leadership isn’t going to last. The decline was dramatically accelerated by the Bush administration, but it can be slowed. Israel has a tremendous, I would say essential, interest in getting its final borders defined, getting them accepted by its neighbors and by the broader Arab and Muslim world, while we still have an America that is powerful enough to help drive that kind of thing to resolution.
Something we want to encourage then, is that the current administration continue its efforts, and hand them over to the incoming President.
The above are excerpts from an article based on a presentation delivered by Daniel Levy during the Century and New America Foundations' Advocacy Days training session. For the full article, click here.
Daniel Levy is a Senior Fellow and Director of the Prospects for Peace Initiative at The Century Foundation and a Senior Fellow and Director of the Middle East Initiative at the New America Foundation.
During the Barak Government, he worked in the Prime Minister's Office as special adviser and head of the Jerusalem Affairs unit under Minister Haim Ramon. He also worked as senior policy adviser to former Israeli Minister of Justice, Yossi Beilin. He was a member of the official Israeli delegation to the Taba negotiations with the Palestinians in January 2001, and previously served on the negotiating team to the “Oslo B” Agreement from May to September 1995, under Prime Minister Rabin.