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According to Thomas Friedman, the only way lasting peace between Israel and Palestine can be met, is on their own terms, without the engineering or advice from a third party.
If Israel and the Palestinians are to find peace, the initiative will have to come from them. They must own the process, or it will be doomed to fail, according to Thomas Friedman. “In the entire history of mankind, no-one ever washed a rented car,” the visiting US international affairs writer told a packed Emmanuel Synagogue at an NIF Australia event in Sydney last Saturday night.
In other words, a genuine peace can’t be imposed by the US or another honest broker, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author told ABC broadcaster, Geraldine Doogue, in a conversation titled Is the two-state solution over?
On the subject of the US, he gave no credence to President Trump’s apparent optimism about the prospect of peace during his recent visit to Israel. While Trump may turn out to be the wild card that sparks some action by the parties, an X-factor so different from conventional politicians, Friedman was blunt about the US President’s comments: “I don’t see anything” – no evidence for optimism, and no confidence in Trump’s capacity to achieve a breakthrough.
In an ultimately pessimistic conclusion about the viability of a peace agreement, Friedman said the impasse is moving closer, every day – “whether by design or default” – from a two-state option to a one-state option. If that threshold is crossed, it will be a disaster for Israel and every Jewish community in the world, he argued.
“With two states, the debate is about right and left,” he explained, referring to percentages of land and degrees of accommodation. “With one state, it’s a debate about right and wrong, which will be much more divisive.”
Both peoples need their own homeland, a place to express their culture and identity, Friedman added. “Israelis will never feel at home and be able to take their shoes off unless Palestinians can, and vice-versa.”
When asked by Doogue whether the slide towards a point of no-return might be self-inflicted, Friedman laid the responsibility for the current inertia with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “Israel should not be getting out of the West Bank immediately, or without caution. But it should be testing whether it has a Palestinian partner for peace in the West Bank.
“Netanyahu is not interested in testing that. He is always dog-paddling in the Rubicon, never interested in crossing it. Why? Because he is a small man in a big time.”
Asked by the audience whether there was anyone, on either side of Israeli politics, who might be able to extend a hand for peace, Friedman said no names came to mind. Another question focussed on the existing division within the Palestinian leadership between Fatah and Hamas. Even if an Israeli leader did reach out, would the Palestinians be able to negotiate as a united partner? Friedman conceded that division would make the process harder, but said there was no acceptable alternative but to keep testing for peace.
Finally, someone from the audience put to him that most Israelis are happy with the status quo. Why would they want to change it if they are happy, and what would make them change?
The author did not have a ready answer. “Perhaps a major explosion,” he said, referring to either a physical or a political event. “Otherwise, the status quo will continue – until it doesn’t.” While his pragmatism was eloquent, the moral implication of his observations was left unexamined.
If Israelis are happy for the status quo to continue, are they also happy for the occupation of the Palestinian territories to continue, and with it the diminished rights and opportunities that Palestinians must endure?
As they say in cricket, that was a question that this conversation let go straight through to the keeper.
Some video excerpts:
Videos by Rod Freedman and Joshua Marks.
See more video excerpts from the event here.
Some of the 500-600 attendees at the event:
Photograph by David Hufton Photography.
Reprinted with permission from www.plus61j.net.au.