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December 7, 2016

Prime Minister Netanyahu and Education Minister Naftali Bennett are foaming at the mouth as they smell the approaching advent of the new administration, anticipating that Trump will support their future-less conception of Israel’s direction. A year ago, Netanyahu prophesied, he promised that we “would live forever by the sword.” Bennett has already met with Trump’s people in New York to lay groundwork for what he believes will be the start of a great partnership, Trump’s son in law’s foundation has been supporting settlements for years. While here at home, the Netanyahu government is currently advancing a piece of legislation that would legalize unauthorized West Bank outposts. Some 100 of these wildcat outposts dot the territory, many have been built on privately owned Palestinian land. The new legislation appears to be another in a series of steps designed to lead toward the government’s formal annexation of the territories. Likud Minister Benny Begin objected, pointing to the illegality of such a move, and was suspended by a fellow Likudnik from the Knesset Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee for refusing to toe the party line. The proposed “Normalization Law” is a foreboding milestone. Beginning Thursday, activists will hold a vigil outside the Prime Minister’s residence in Jerusalem to protest this new dire threat to the possibility of a negotiated agreement with the Palestinians.

Meanwhile, Jimmy Carter this week called on President Obama to recognize the Palestinian state. This is an intriguing development. If he listens to Carter, Obama may finally have the opportunity to earn the Nobel Peace Prize sitting on his shelf. After seven years – the frustration of John Kerry’s valiant efforts, repeated humiliations at the hands of Netanyahu and his henchmen, the disgust that has accumulated in the White House for our manipulative, anti-peace prime minister – perhaps Obama is ripe to make a significant move. If Obama so chooses, the move will not come from anger or revenge. On the contrary….. Rejecting lame-duck clichés, even at the eleventh hour, Obama can take action to transform reality, to create a game-changing moment, before leaving office. The best material comes out in the final moments of a therapy session, so why not a presidency?

Aside from a handful of ministers in Bibi’s government and the minority of confused Israelis who still support them, the world community acknowledges that there will be no peace in the middle-east without realization of the Palestinian aspiration for independence. Let Obama now pull a maneuver of the sort that the settlement movement has made a way of life….create facts on the ground first, and then work to justify and solidify that move. The follow-up work would be in Trump’s hands and who the hell knows what he would do. But with no way of predicting unpredictable Trump, Obama can nonetheless initiate a bold gesture of intervention, just before leaving office, a gesture that would force Trump to take a stand about peace in our area. Even if Trump moves to annul the declaration, days after assuming office, the die will be cast. One symbolic, courageous act could shift the equation significantly. What does Obama have to lose here? Restraint is no longer in order. Let Obama turn to the world and say clearly, “We know that justice is served by affirming the Palestinians’ right to a homeland, a right that is in no way junior to the Israelis’ claim to their home. We stand with the Palestinians and yet we also believe that proclaiming the Palestinian state is a way to support the Israelis who continue to seek a solution that will ensure Israel’s democratic future.”

Obama’s statement would have to also acknowledge that the borders of both Israel and Palestine have yet to be finalized. The principle of “1967 borders with some adjustments” has been welcomed by most players on the international and local scenes. Yet many crucial issues would remain unresolved….the future of Israeli settlements in the new Palestine, water distribution, security cooperation, to name a few. The two states, Israel and Palestine, might now be forced to negotiate the new reality with the unprecedented motivation of two internationally-legitimized neighbors who now need to complete an agreement in order to get on with handling more pressing matters than security.

Jimmy Carter can look today at nearly 40 years of Egyptian-Israeli peace with satisfaction. A “cold peace” is still peace. Egypt sent firefighters to help us a couple of weeks ago. This year, thousands of Israelis returned to vacation in Sinai. Peace is a process. This moment is Obama’s chance to launch a hopeful new chapter here in the troubled middle-east. Recognizing Palestine will not end the conflict. The act will arouse fierce opposition in Israel. But it could open a new page, and in a best-case scenario, could give the incoming President the leverage he needs to get Palestinians and Israelis to the negotiating table so we can overcome our 100 years’ mutual resistance to moving forward.

Yoav Peck, a Jerusalem organizational psychologist, is director of the Sulha Peace Project, bringing Palestinians and Israelis together for heart-to-heart contact


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