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Dare we dream? After seeing his conservative party alliance shrink from forty-two to thirty-one seats in last month’s elections, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is now trying to put together a parliamentary majority. Did these losses chasten him? Will they lead to a real change in his policies? He has certainly made a splash with his first move. His selection of long-time political foe Tzipi Livni as justice minister and, more importantly, as head of the government’s official negotiating team (should negotiations ever resume) with the Palestinians, is being praised by some as a potentially important shift and dismissed by others as window dressing.

Livni began her career on the right, in Netanyahu’s Likud party, but moved leftward on the Palestinian issue and became one of the founding members of the centrist Kadima party in 2005, serving as foreign minister and deputy prime minister. Under Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, she headed the team that negotiated directly with the Palestinian Authority and, while it did not succeed, her team came far closer to a final peace agreement than Netanyahu’s government has thus far. Later Livni became head of Kadima before being ousted and leaving in 2012.

Last November she formed Hatnuah, another centrist party that included some from Kadima as well as two former leaders of the Labor Party. Hatnuah won six seats in the January election and has now become the first party to join Netanyahu’s coalition government. Upon her selection, Livni said that she wouldn’t be joining the government if she didn’t “trust” that Netanyahu was serious in his “commitment to the peace process.”

There are few issues more gut-wrenching to follow than the matter of Israel-Palestine. As a Jew, I feel a personal stake in Israel’s survival. As a historian (who teaches a class on the topic), I am well aware of the deeply held beliefs, opportunities for peace missed, and, yes, immoral actions taken by both sides. As an American, I know how important it would be for my country’s interests and security if the Israelis and Palestinians could come to a final peace agreement. And as a human being, I want suffering reduced whereever possible, and for people to be able to live their lives with dignity, justice, freedom, and security wherever possible.

Watching events unfold in Israel-Palestine in recent years has not given me much hope. Yet even after the anguish I felt hearing about Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination in 1995, and after the Camp David talks in 2000 failed to produce an agreement, and after countless other disappointments and tragedies, I still can’t give up on the idea that these two peoples can make peace.

So that’s where I’m at when I think about what it means that the ultra-hawkish Netanyahu has turned over the “peace portfolio” to someone like Livni, who most observers see as far more committed to pursuing a peace treaty than the Netanyahu of recent years. Apparently, leaders of the Israeli settler movement think that Livni’s new position in the cabinet is a bad thing for their interests, and for Israel’s, as they define them. The far-right Jewish Home party — which rejects the idea of a Palestinian state — also hates Livni’s appointment. As someone who cares about that country, my thinking is that anything the settler leaders or the hard-right parties think is bad has a pretty good chance of being good for Israel. The reaction from Palestinian leaders to Livni’s appointment has been essentially mute, as they are clearly waiting to see the whole of Netanyahu’s coalition.

In Israel-Palestine, predicting the failure of peace talks has always been a safe bet. My head tells me that this is unlikely to change anytime soon, despite what I believe is Livni’s serious desire for a real deal, a desire I also believe is matched by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and moderate colleagues like Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. As for my heart — well, it’s been broken enough times on this issue that I should know better. But despite this, and despite the fact that Livni joining the Israeli cabinet doesn’t change the fact that the Palestinians also bear responsibility for previous failures as well as the current stalemate, I have some rational basis for my hopes.

Perhaps Netanyahu has enough credibility on the right to actually bring reasonable hawks around to supporting the concessions necessary to make peace, to do what Nixon did in going to China and meeting with Chairman Mao. Netanyahu’s appointment of Livni to lead his negotiating team is at least a signal that he intends to make a serious effort on that front. By no means am I deeply optimistic. But at least I’m less pessimistic than I was before the elections. At this point, that’s real progress.

Cross-posted at In The Fray

PS-Please check out my new book Obama's America: A Transformative Vision of Our National Identity, published by Potomac Books, where I discuss Barack Obama's ideas on racial, ethnic, and national identity in detail, and contrast his inclusive vision to language coming from Mitt Romney, Rush Limbaugh and (some) others on the right. You can read a review by DailyKos's own Greg Dworkin here.

Originally posted to Ian Reifowitz on Sat Feb 23, 2013 at 05:22 AM PST.

Also republished by Jews For President Obama.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Faint praise (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ian Reifowitz, Brecht

    Under Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, she headed the team that negotiated directly with the Palestinian Authority and, while it did not succeed, her team came far closer to a final peace agreement than Netanyahu’s government has thus far.

    Anything is greater than zero...

    When the union's inspiration /Through the workers' blood shall run /There can be no power greater /Anywhere beneath the sun /Solidarity Forever!

    by litho on Sat Feb 23, 2013 at 05:55:30 AM PST

  •  It should be noted that part of Bibi's loss (5+ / 0-)

    of popularity stems from matters not directly related to the I-P situation, some amazingly petty and embarrassing IMO. Just recently a story appeared in an Israeli paper that he and his family have racked up thousands of dollars worth of government-paid bills from a favorite ice cream parlor near their residence. Apparently it's vital to his ability to govern that he and his family and guests have access to unlimited supplies of gourmet Israeli "gleeda" (ice cream). He's said to live on a very grand scale, especially when traveling abroad, and that's not playing well with Israelis, who've had to deal with their own austerity.

    I'll never forget a story a friend once told me about Bibi. Back in the 90's, when he was PM the first time, on a visit to NYC he and his family were staying in a hotel near Central Park, and, insisting that they be able to take a stroll there and ignoring the pleadings of the race directors, he forced his security detail and the NYPD to break up a major bike race taking place in the park at the time, with entrants from all over the world. Because the race used the entire 6.1 mile road on the park's perimeter, it was logistically impossible to resume the race afterwards and hundreds of racers went home disappointed.

    There's a Hebrew curse word that I believe applies to him that I only refrain from using because it implies something untoward about his mother, who I'm sure was a lovely person, unlike her very dickish son.

    "Liberty without virtue would be no blessing to us" - Benjamin Rush, 1777

    by kovie on Sat Feb 23, 2013 at 06:17:34 AM PST

  •  I'd like to be hopeful... (6+ / 0-)

    but it's very difficult to see that Livni's appointment will make much difference. I'd be delighted, of course, to be proven wrong.

    Real stupidity beats artificial intelligence every time. (Terry Pratchett)

    by angry marmot on Sat Feb 23, 2013 at 06:18:50 AM PST

  •  I think what we have missed about the U.S. (5+ / 0-)

    Constitution is that the commitment to human rights, which the whole world finds attractive, was seriously compromised at the start by the need to accept the ownership of some humans by other humans at the start. The result was that ownership of things, property rights, came to trump human rights. In effect, we repeated the "deal" in which Esau gave up his birth right for a bowl of porridge, never asking the question why Isaac did not share his lunch without demanding compensation to begin with.
    "No free lunch" has a long history. The notion that one man must be subordinate to another in order to live is hard to surrender. But, if the right to life is to be honored, then the right to property has to be given up, or, at least, recognized as an obligation to share the fruits thereof.  In other words, not the right to life, but the right to property has to be seen as conditional.
    Humans can enjoy both their properties (speech, association, permabulation, creation, reproduction) and the ownership of property. But, the latter has to be based on the recognition that, in exchange for having one's claim to exclusive use of nature's assets, man has an obligation to share.
    Sharing, that's the ticket. Indeed, sharing is the basis of exchange and trade. It is what distinguishes the social organism from the predator.  The dichotomy isn't between makers and takers; it's between sharers and takers. Sharers operate from consensus; takers coerce. Sharers rely on communication; takers rely on force.

    Perhaps the Israelis and the Palestinians have both been misled into thinking that peace is connected to the exclusive ownership of land. Truth is that when people are excluded, they cannot be at peace. There is a difference between being shut out and respecting someone's property and properties, including bodily integrity (privacy). Private property is not a guarantee of bodily integrity.

    We organize governments to deliver services and prevent abuse.

    by hannah on Sat Feb 23, 2013 at 06:28:19 AM PST

  •  My brother, SIL, (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ian Reifowitz

    & kids in Israel right now!  Too busy visiting SIL's family to do much politics.  They're die-hard R's anyway.  I just "like" her pictures....

    "The light which puts out our sight is darkness to us." Thoreau

    by NancyWH on Sat Feb 23, 2013 at 07:10:10 AM PST

  •  The IP peace process is like Lucy and the Football (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    The Palestinians keep grabbing away the ball at the last minute, decimating their own people in the process.

  •  After half of your family has been murdered (0+ / 0-)

    by the millions and you're allowed to exist in a tiny spot and when your hundred million  neighbors wants you dead, and when, now, your whole tiny country can be wiped out in a day, it's likely you are very defensive and suspect of everything and everybody.  That's not to defend the crazies, just realistic. Leave them alone and they can do great things for humanity w/o threatening anyone.

    Don't believe everything you think.

    by BrianParker14 on Sat Feb 23, 2013 at 01:23:02 PM PST

  •  A resolution to the conflict (0+ / 0-)

    Benefits all.  Let's get on it  

  •  I too, for reasons that are not entirely clear, (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    feel hopeful about the formation of a Palestinian State alongside Israel in the relatively near future.  I write this after my wife and I watched 5 Broken Cameras yesterday evening.  Most troubling to me is the possibility that the actual two state solution will not address the legitimate grievances of the Palestinian Street - as the Palestine Tapes seem to suggest.

    Tzipi Livni represents a potential pathway to two states and to peace.  However, this is hardly a given.  Netanyahu's drop in popularity followed Obama's victory and his subtly negative interview comments in the week prior to Israel's elections.  This is very similar to Shamir's drop in popularity following Bush Senior's refusal to sell bonds to Israel because of Israel's on-going development of housing in the West Bank.  A substanatial portion of the Israeli public is sensitive to what the leadership in the US and Europe think and say.  I believe Obama is very aware of this dynamic and hence his upcoming visit raises hope and fosters intrigue.

    However, the more difficult question for me is what the two states will look like the day after there is a Palestinan State.  Since this is not for us to decide, it seems moste important for communities such as dailykos and the Jewish community, in particular, to articulate clear principles about what is humane and right - and within that context (or perhaps, regardlesss) the political leadership will negotiate and reach their settlement.  I look forward to such a discussion.

    Thanks for your thoughtful and compassionate diary.  It prompted me to read your diary on Lincoln, which I also appreciated, a topic which informs this challenging and painful issue.

  •  Excellent diary. (0+ / 0-)

    Although I struggle to find reasons for optimism regarding I/P matters, I take heart when I read expressions of hope from those who are thoughtful and level-headed.

    Thanks again for sharing your views.

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