The Main Obstacle to Peace is Psychological

By Uri Avnery

Last week, Professor John Mearsheimer presented an analysis of the chances of Israel surviving in the long term. Every Israeli who is concerned about the future of the state should grapple with this analysis.

Mearsheimer believes that the two-state solution is “dead.” Greater Israel, ruling over the territory between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, already exists and is an apartheid state that will steadily become more consolidated—until its collapse. In the end, it will become a democratic bi-national state, whose politics will be dominated by its Palestinian citizens.

The professor believes that the two-state solution is dead because, in his opinion, most Israelis are not ready to make the “sacrifices” necessary for its implementation. But I do not accept this judgment. As an Israeli living and fighting in Israel, I am convinced that the great majority of Israelis are ready to accept the necessary conditions, which are well-known to all: a Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem; the 1967 borders with minimal land swaps; and a mutually acceptable solution for the refugee problem.

The real problem is that most Israelis do not believe that peace is possible. Years of propaganda have convinced them that “we have no partner for peace.” Events on the ground (as seen through Israeli eyes) have confirmed this view.

If this perception is dissolved, everything is possible.

The professor is right that today there is no sizable peace movement and nobody with the kind of standing in Israeli politics who is able to remove the settlements. Yet history shows that exceptional leaders often appear when they are needed. I have seen a failed and generally detested politician called Winston Churchill become a national hero.

I have also seen Ariel Sharon, the father of the settlements, in face of the total opposition of the settlers and their allies, evacuate some 20 settlements in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. Not a single military unit mutinied. Not a single person was killed or seriously injured.

Sure, there is a quantitative and qualitative difference between this and the task before us. But it is a mistake to view the “settlers” as a monolithic structure: the inhabitants of the East Jerusalem neighbourhoods do not resemble the West Bank settlers; the buyers of cheap apartments in Ariel and Ma’aleh-Adumim do not resemble the zealots of Yitzhar and Tapuach; and the Orthodox in Modi’in-Illit and Immanuel do not resemble the “the Hilltop Youth.” If a peace agreement is achieved, it will be necessary to approach the evacuation job with determination, and also with finesse.

The two-state solution is the only solution. The alternative is not a democratic, secular bi-national state. Except for a tiny group of dreamers, there are no Israelis who dream of living in a bi-national state in which the Arabs constitute the majority; Israeli Jews would rather emigrate. But it is much more plausible that the reverse would happen: the Palestinians would emigrate first.

Ethnic cleansing does not have to take the form of a dramatic expulsion, as in 1948. It can take place when more and more Palestinians simply give up. That is the dream of the settlers and their partners: to make life for the Palestinians so miserable that they take their families and leave.

Either way, life in this country will turn into hell. Not for one year, but for dozens of years. Both sides will be violent. World public opinion will turn against Israel. The Jews in the Diaspora will distance themselves. But if international pressure does not succeed in convincing the Israelis to accept the two-state solution, which does no harm to their national identity, how will it compel them to give up everything they have — their state, their identity, their culture, their economy, all they have built in a huge endeavour of 120 years?

I completely agree with the professor: The main obstacle to peace is psychological. What is needed is a profound change of perceptions before the Israeli public can be brought to recognise reality and accept peace, with all it entails.

That is the main task facing the Israeli peace camp: To change the basic perceptions of the public. I am certain that this is possible. We have already travelled a long road from the days of “There are no Palestinians!” and “Jerusalem united for all eternity!” Professor Mearsheimer’s analysis may well contribute to this process.

An apartheid state or a bi-national state? Neither. But the free state of Palestine side by side with the free State of Israel, in the common homeland.

Uri Avnery is a journalist and peace activist. He is the founder of the Gush Shalom peace movement.

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