Whether viewed as a failed stalemate, or a strategy by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu of "anti solutionism" as Natan Sachs argues in his article "Why Israel Waits," the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has ground to a costly and painful halt. Left with a hopeless future, Palestinian youth react with violence against Israeli targets, a violence that is shamefully praised and encouraged by the older generations. And a younger generation of Palestinians increasingly despair of a two-state solution and begin to embrace a bi-national state as a goal.
At the same time, the Israelis' response to the Palestinian violence results in the deaths of young Palestinians, generating what Israel considers unfair condemnation and furthering a small but uncomfortable BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement in the US and elsewhere, as well as increasing disaffection from younger American Jews. As Israeli nationalists press for increasing settlements and advocate openly for annexation of parts of the West Bank, thoughtful Israelis fear that a state that is both Jewish and democratic could slip away and Jews the world over see the Zionist dream under threat.
While most Israelis, in principle, support separation from the Palestinians and a two state solution, they believe that all the paths that have been tried to achieve that aim have failed and there are no more options. They have seen the failure of direct negotiations as Yasser Arafat turned down the far reaching offer from Ehud Barak at Camp David in 2000 and followed that failure with the second intifada and later as Mahmoud Abbas never responded to even greater concessions from Ehud Olmert in 2008. They perceive unilateral withdrawal to have been tested and failed in the withdrawals from Lebanon by Barak in 2000 and the withdrawal from Gaza by Ariel Sharon in 2005; in both cases followed by attacks on Israelis from those areas..
What Israel needs now is a new approach. One that does not involve any physical risk of actual withdrawal to Israel, but still demonstrates to the Israeli people, the Palestinians, and to the world at large that Israel intends to separate from the Palestinians and carry out the UN mandates of two states for two people.
The Israeli government should publicly proclaim an Israel Peace Initiative and spell out what are the terms on which it is prepared for a two state agreement with the Palestinians. Such an initiative would be patterned after the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 proposed by then Crown Prince, the late King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, which offered a full peace to Israel conditioned on its meeting the terms of the initiative. Similarly, the IPI would spell out the terms and conditions of a peace deal with the Palestinians resulting in two states, subject to the Palestinians accepting the terms of the proposal. Such a proposal would presumably embody many of the terms already presented to the Palestinian leadership by former prime ministers Barak and Olmert, modified by the present day situation on the ground and the security considerations reflecting present day realities.
A peace Initiative coming from the state of Israel would demonstrate its commitment to a two-state resolution and preclude the efforts by any other nation such as the United States or group of nations under the UN to put forth a plan for resolving the conflict. It would place the responsibility on the Palestinian leadership to respond publicly by accepting the plan or rejecting it, so the Palestinian people and the rest of the world would know that the choice was available to the Palestinians. And it would be responsive the to the Arab initiative, perhaps allowing both groups to work more closely together to thwart Iran's hegemonic ambitions. Having once laid out the parameters of the peace deal, Israel could then openly and appropriately carry out its settlement and other domestic programs in line with the IPI.
There is no great downside for Israel to state its positions publicly at this time. The positions that Barak and Olmert presented are well known to the Palestinians and any other parties having an interest. To be sure, the current Israeli government, with its large right wing component, including the Jewish Home party of Naftali Bennett, which advocates annexation of parts of the West Bank would never endorse such an initiative. The decision to formulate and offer an IPI would require a new broad national unity coalition of right and left, Likud and Labor. But that may well be a coalition that Prime Minister Netanyahu would prefer over the narrow majority he now has in the Knesset.
It is time for Israel to take control of its own destiny and make clear to the world, the Palestinians and its own population that it is serious about resolving the Palestinian issue with two states living side by side in peace and with security.
Robert K. Lifton has served as President of the American Jewish Congress; Co-Chair of the Middle East Project of the Council On Foreign Relations and Chair and presently a Board member of the Israel Policy Forum. He is the author of "An Entrepreneurs' Journey: Stories From A Life In Business And Personal Diplomacy."