Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has been a piñata for those who think he should make even more concessions than his country has already made to the Palestinians even if the other side has shown no willingness to negotiate, let alone sign an agreement. But Thursday, he was assailed on another issue relating to the peace process. During a media session with a visiting foreign minister, he made it clear that if peace ever were to be signed, he would insist on the accord being submitted to the people of Israel for a vote.
This suggestion, made in the course of a discussion with Swiss Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter, whose nation is well known for its use of referendums, prompted some on the Israeli left as well as other Netanyahu critics to cry foul. Indeed, as the New York Times noted, even a member of his own government doesn’t like the idea:
Left-leaning Israeli supporters of a peace deal have long argued that a referendum could impede the leadership’s ability to seal a treaty with Palestinians.
[Tzipi] Livni, a former foreign minister and chief negotiator with the Palestinians under the government led by Ehud Olmert, Mr. Netanyahu’s predecessor, has publicly opposed the idea of a referendum. Ms. Livni now leads her own party, which is considered dovish on peace issues. She told Israel’s Army Radio a few days ago, “At the moment, a referendum is a way to forestall decisions approved by the Parliament and the cabinet.”
But rather than impeding peace, Netanyahu’s support for a referendum on any agreement with the Palestinians is the only way it can be implemented with the full support of the vast majority of Israelis.
If the White House ceremony bringing together Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat to put their commitment to the Oslo process in writing marked a boost of forward momentum on the peace process, the Camp David Summit of 2000 did the opposite. Arafat’s rejection—predetermined, it turned out—of the peace agreement without a counteroffer, followed by his initiation of the intifada, constituted a major warning sign to peace processers that the two-state solution was slipping away, and maybe already had.
The practicality gap between support for the two-state solution in the abstract and getting the plan through Arafat, who had chosen terror over dialogue, seemed to be widening. Ehud Barak, the Labor prime minister representing Israel at Camp David, lost his bid for re-election in 2001, and the state hasn’t had a Labor prime minister since. Into this breach came Barak advisor Yossi Alpher, who founded an online magazine with former Palestinian Authority legislator Ghassan Khatib, called Bitterlemons. The webzine was in many ways ahead of its time as an online forum, and it attempted to create a digital Israeli-Palestinian dialogue track as the respective governments moved further from reconciliation. Yesterday, Laura Rozen reported the webzine is closing. From Alpher’s announcement:
We are ceasing publication for reasons involving fatigue–on a number of fronts. First, there is donor fatigue. Why, donors ask, should we continue to support a Middle East dialogue project that not only has not made peace, but cannot “prove” to our satisfaction–especially at a time of revolution and violence throughout the region–that it has indeed raised the level of civilized discussion? Why fight the Israeli right-wing campaign against European and American state funding and the Palestinian campaign against “normalization”?
These last two negative developments also reflect local fatigue. There is no peace process and no prospect of one. Informal “track II” dialogue–bitterlemons might be described as a “virtual” track II–is declining. Here and there, writers from the region who used to favor us with their ideas and articles are now begging off, undoubtedly deterred by the revolutionary rise of intolerant political forces in their countries or neighborhood.