"Only you, Mr President, can turn things around in the dying Israeli-Palestinian peace process… You are our only – and probably last – hope.” As the US President arrives in the Middle East for meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, former senior Israeli diplomat Alon Liel urges him to rescue the moribund peace process.
Elders team: Today US President Barack Obama visits Israel and the West Bank for the first time since coming into office. What is your message to him?
Alon Liel: Obama's visit starts today; it looks at this stage to be a visit of protocol. I hope I will be proved wrong.
My message to the President is: “Please look around Mr President, at the two leaderships involved, on the Israeli and Palestinian sides. Try to sense the public mood on both sides. If you do so carefully, you will find out that only you, Mr President, can turn things around in the dying Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Please take it upon yourself in order to save Israel and create Palestine. Do not push this task aside. You are our only – and probably last – hope.”
When the Elders last visited Israel and the West Bank, they warned that the two-state solution is vanishing. What will it take to save it?
Although things in Israel look very safe and stable at the moment, we are in an emergency situation. It is not only the growing number of West Bank settlers; it is the disappearance of the peace camps on both sides, and the widespread belief that the gaps on the major issues of the conflict have become unbridgeable.
The only way to save the ‘two states’ idea as a viable option is to prove to the Israelis that the alternative is much worse for them. This, I think, could be done.
What's the alternative to a two-state solution?
This is the talk of the region. With every day passing the ‘one-state’ option is getting closer.
This could look like a joint Israeli-Palestinian state (maybe along similar lines as the emerging Turkish-Kurdish agreement on a form of cultural autonomy for Kurds in Turkey). It could also look like an apartheid state. A joint state will not be Jewish – and an apartheid state cannot, by definition, be democratic.
To me these two possibilities look like one big nightmare, but more and more Israelis and Palestinians see the emerging one state as the only viable option left.
How can the international community – both the public and policy-makers – help to support a peaceful resolution of this long-running conflict?
Israelis feel very happy and lucky when they compare their fate to those of the countries around them. Israel is booming, while most of the Middle East is in flames and south-eastern Europe is collapsing economically. The international community should signal to Israel that it is unacceptable to the world that Israelis are celebrating while the Palestinians are still suffering.
The international community should continue to criticise Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and speed up the process of labelling products from the settlements. If no serious peace process is being launched, the United Nations should accept Palestine as a Member State.
Do Israelis and Palestinians actually want peace?
Yes, but no… Both sides express their wish for peace, but without being ready to pay the price involved. In other words, both sides do not want peace at this stage. Israel, by the way, has a bigger responsibility by being the stronger side by far, and having the necessary military, political and economic might to turn things around.
Dr Alon Liel has served the Israeli Foreign Ministry in various positions, including as Director General (2000-2001), Ambassador to South Africa (1992-1994), and head of the Israeli mission in Turkey (1981-1983). He lectures in International Relations at Tel Aviv University and The Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center, and is a member of the board of several civil society organisations promoting peace and equality.