On October 9, I attended a presentation by Israeli activist Galia Golan at UC Irvine. Her speech was sponsored by the Social Sciences Department. About 70 people, almost all students, were in attendance. Most, if not all were students of Dr Cecelia Lynch, who is the director of International Studies at UCI. She was the presenter of Ms. Golan, who spoke for over an hour.
Golan is a woman who was born in Cincinnati, immigrated to Israel and became a liberal activist largely in women's and peace issues. She is a leader of the liberal Meretz party. She is also a professor emeritus from Hebrew University. According to her bio, she was an early supporter during the creation of J Street and received an award from the New Israel Fund. That should give you an inkling of the nature of her presentation. At the start of her speech, she gave a shout out to Dr Paula Garb (Peace and Conflict Studies) and the Olive Tree Initiative.
Golan's title was whether a two state solution is still possible between Israel and the Palestinians, which is the central theme of her recent book, "Israeli Peacemaking Since 1967". Predictably, in describing the failures of the peace process, she laid almost all of the blame at the feet of Israel.
Golan's speech was organized into a historical reciting of the breakthroughs and failures of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.She stated that most of the failures were on the the part of Israel. She briefly conceded that some of the failures came from the Palestinian side but that she was not going to address them.
As to the breakthroughs and their factors, Golan listed the change in the international picture, the breakup of the USSR, the weakening of the PLO, the rise in Islamism. the resultant need to remove the Israeli-Palestinian issue in order to deal with it, leadership changes, the rise of Anwar Sadat and Jimmy Carter with the resultant Camp David Accord, Jordan giving up all claims to the West Bank, the change in public opinion due to the First Intifada, Israel joining the globalization movement in the 1980s, the scud attacks on Israel during the first Iraqi war, and third party involvement in the peace process (ex. Oslo).
As to the failures, she listed Yasir Arafat not curbing terrorism during the Oslo process, the instability of the Barak government in Israel, weak government coalitions, the absence of Israeli political will, and most importantly the mistrust of Israelis that Arabs would really make a permanent peace with her and accept her in their midst. That, she said, was a result of Jewish history and the Holocaust. As a result there was an Israel demand for security as part of any deal. As one important example, she mentioned the demands by various Israeli leaders to maintain a military presence in the Jordan River Valley that separates Jordan from the West Bank. While Rabin wanted to keep the JRV, Olmert maintained it wasn't necessary, according to Golan. Netanyahu, for his part, wanted to control the JRV militarily. Golan said when she heard this from Netanyahu, she called the US ambassador to Israel and urged him "not to let them do this". According to Golan, this would have given Israel control over all access to a Palestinian state.
Golan also informed the audience that Palestinians have recognized Israel's right to exist within recognized borders since 1988. She characterized Israel's demands that Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state as "manipulation". She referred to certain Israeli attitudes as "It's all ours". (This all brought to my mind the constant refrain we hear from pro-Palestinian demonstrators in the US, "From the River to the sea, Palestine will be free.")
At this point, Golan said that to Israeli negotiators, the problem is all symmetrical while Palestinians feel as if they have nothing left to give.
Golan then came to the issue of "spoilers", factors which have killed any peace deal. First was the settlers' campaign with right-wing elements including the US diaspora to incite against a peace deal. In the end they won while Rabin was assassinated by a right-wing sympathizer of the settlers.. She also mentioned Hamas and Islamic Jihad, flaws in the Oslo Accords, and the continuing occupation. In addition, there was no freeze on (settler) building.
Golan then turned to the question of possible solutions ('What might make a difference today?") First was political will and a recognition that holding onto the occupied territories was a greater danger than making a peace deal. She mentioned demographics and the eventuality that between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, Jews will be outnumbered by Arabs. If full citizenship rights are granted to Arabs, Jews would become a minority and possibly a persecuted minority. The alternative would be no equal rights with a minority (Jews) ruling over a majority (Arabs). She maintained that we (Israel) cannot rule over occupied territories and be a democracy. She quoted Jimmy Carter's phrase, peace or apartheid.
What is needed, Golan continued, is leadership that understands the (above) threat, which she maintained Netanyahu does not. She referred to "right-wing fanatics" in his government. Meanwhile, Golan said that there is a confluence of interests today between Israel and Arab governments as to the threats of terror, ISIS and Iran. Only the Palestinian problem holds them back from coming together, she stated.
Golan said that the Europeans are "fed up" with Israel.but that the Israeli public is also fed up and ignoring the conflict. She said that in the 1990s, during public opinion polls, 48% of Palestinians supported a two-state solution. What is needed, she added, is swift agreement accompanied by Israel's declaration that it had a role in the Palestinian .refugee problem.
She reiterated that the big problem in any agreement is the settlers, of whom there are about 350,000. What to do with them? She threw out the possibility that land swaps could be agreed upon that would enable some settlers to remain in place with Palestinians receiving some uninhabited areas of Israel in return. Yet, some people would have to be evacuated.
Golan stressed the need for US involvement. She recounted how Henry Kissinger and Jimmy Carter had brought pressure upon Israel. She doesn't see that kind of pressure coming from the Obama administration. If that is the case, why not step aside and let the Europeans proceed as they wish. (That raised the question in my mind as to whether she considers the Europeans honest brokers.)
While Golan implied that the US should not block international actions against Israel, she said she was not including BDS in that area. She considered BDS a serious mistake and added that the proponents of BDS do not recognize Israel's right to exist. She included academic boycotts of Israel saying that they only hurt liberal academics like her. She also stated in this vein that the PLO recognizes Israel's right to exist. She said that certain sanctions against products produced in the occupied territories might help.
There were several questions from the audience including myself. My question was to the effect that over here in the US, we keep hearing the chant of the pro-Palestinian crowds on campus and in the streets, "From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free", which I take as meaning they want it all. Are we to dismiss that as overheated rhetoric from a radical fringe? Secondly, I directed a question to the Social Science department. Since Ms Golan had limited her description of the role of Israel in peace failures, would the department in the future bring in a speaker who would focus on Palestinian role in those failures. To that, Ms Lynch stated, "We have."
Golan said the chant was "distressing" and that it was not the position of the PLO (She did not mention Hamas.) or the people in the occupied territories. She could not address the opinions of the (Palestinian) diaspora.
At the end, Golan conceded that a peace treaty would not guarantee peace. It was a gamble. However, if Israel doesn't take the risk, there will be continued conflict and a continued isolation of Israel internationally.
Comment: I do not pretend to know more about this intractable problem than Golan. She is an impressive speaker who doesn't engage in overheated rhetoric or throw out a lot of inflammatory phrases. She does consider the West Bank to be "occupied", and she termed all settlements "illegal". Yet, it was still a one-sided presentation that laid the blame for the failure of the peace process almost 100% at Israel's feet. As one of my pro-Israel friends commented to me after I described the speech to him, "What are the Palestinians-just inert rocks who never bear any responsibility for anything that happens to them"?
I don't know who the speaker(s) were that Ms Lynch described who reportedly gave the other side. I will try to check in to it and see who they were.