Avraham Burg writes: It was depressing to see American President Barack Obama’s weak appearance at the United Nations. It was depressing to see this talented man, who brought such great hope to the world, presenting the pitiable position of a feeble empire. It was embarrassing to see him defending positions and people whom only a few months earlier he had attacked with fury. His obsequiousness is shameful, and this weakness is a real danger to the world. Therefore anyone who wants peace cannot make do merely with accusing Obama. One cannot allow his desperation to have veto power over our hope.
It is strange, but we no longer have anyone on whom to rely but the head of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas. If the current Palestinian move in the UN is successful, it will be wonderful. There will be two states between whom negotiations will be conducted – on an equal footing, and not as an occupying force and the vanquished – about their future and the relations between them. But if the move fails, because Obama has become a hostage in the hands of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who himself is a hostage in the hands of the settlers and other Israeli extremists, we will be left merely to wonder what the next step will be.
In the past few years, there has been a change in the cast of players in the Middle East theater of the absurd. Israel has become big and clumsy, erring and intransigent. The Palestinians, or at least those among them who support the PA and the government in Ramallah, have taken over the role that was once ours: seeking peace, restraining violence, building a state, and initiating diplomacy. That is how things are in history – yesterday’s weak ones are today’s sated, decadent ones; the victim becomes the oppressor.
On the other hand, as has happened more than once in history, the hope for change lies with the weak. The weak side is the side that stands to gain most from change, and is therefore prepared to take great personal and political risks for change. Netanyahu is several times worse than former prime ministers – David Ben-Gurion, who established the state, or Menachem Begin who achieved peace with Egypt, or Yitzhak Rabin, who tried to follow the Oslo path and paid for it with his life. Abbas is several times better than PLO leader Yasser Arafat who preceded him. That is how things are. They are in a state of evolving and we are receding.
I realize that the commitment to democracy is an inseparable part of the PA’s leadership today. (It is not possible to say the same for the Israeli leadership ). I hope it is a path of no return. If the idea of realizing this aspiration in the framework of a democratic Palestinian state does not bear fruit, the Palestinians must embark on a worldwide initiative demanding that they be allowed to vote for the Knesset. Yes, Israel’s parliament.
This initiative must be accompanied by a non-violent civil rebellion. It will attract a great deal of attention and will cast the spotlight on the paradox of Israeli hypocrisy which claims that we are the only democracy in the Middle East but forgets to point out that we are a democracy for Jews alone. Because we are also the only colonialist conqueror that is left in the Western world.
In order to prove the seriousness of their intentions, the Palestinians need a pilot project, so here it is. The Palestinian leadership must ask the Arabs of East Jerusalem to get organized for the next municipal elections. Since 1967, there have been about one quarter of a million Arabs who have the right to vote in the municipality of Jerusalem alone. In protest against the offensive annexation of the eastern part of the city, they have never realized their democratic right. However this protest does not really help.
The time has come for the anger to be turned into a constructive step. I have no doubt that the moment that one third of the members of the city council of Israel’s capital represent the residents of East Jerusalem, everyone will start to wake up.
Even Netanyahu, who is always the last to wake up, will make sure to stay alert. Because Palestinian political partnership in Jerusalem means one city that belongs to all its residents. That will be very different from the disgraceful situation of discrimination that exists today. One city that belongs to all its residents is only the prologue to one state that belongs to all its citizens between the Jordan River and the sea. That is the real price of the refusal on the part of Netanyahu and the right.
Anyone who is not prepared to do anything to promote two states today – and who is not prepared to pay the price by evacuating the settlements – will, in the end, have to concede all of the state of Israel. That is to say, the Jewish and not so democratic state will be renounced in favor of a legitimate democratic process in which everyone between the Jordan River and the sea has one basic right – the human and civic equality to elect and to be elected. They will have at least the very same rights that are enjoyed by Obama and his new friend who knows just how to manipulate him, Netanyahu.
Avraham Burg is an Israeli author and a former Speaker of the Knesset.