TEL AVIV – The somber spectacle of Israel’s isolation during the United Nations debate on Palestinian statehood marks the political tsunami that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s critics warned would arrive if Israel did not propose a bold peace initiative. But, more importantly, the speeches at the UN General Assembly by the two rivals, Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, showed that any initiative to bring the parties back to the negotiating table might turn out to be futile.
Speeches do not make peace, but they can mar its prospects. Netanyahu and Abbas both showed once again how the politics surrounding “the peace process” has defeated the cause of peace. Both leaders exhibited utter indifference to the other’s core concerns, and catered to their constituencies, Hamas and Israeli settlers included, making it clear, urbi et orbi, that the gaps separating their positions are as unbridgeable as ever.
Netanyahu could not bring himself to admit the sins of occupation, or even to utter a minimal expression of empathy with the Palestinian tragedy of dispossession and dispersion. Israel’s march of folly in expanding its West Bank settlements did not deserve a hint of soul searching on his part.
Indeed, Netanyahu’s call for peace will remain hollow so long as he continues to view the solution to Israel’s legitimate security concerns as requiring continuous occupation of sizable portions of the future Palestinian state. The Jordan Valley and the hills of Judea and Samaria are, undoubtedly, strategic assets for a country whose width is that of the length of a Manhattan avenue. But demilitarization, the deployment of international forces, and rigid security arrangements could offer an answer. Security concerns can no longer be treated as a license for territorial expansion.