There is a great deal of heat and passion about the difference between “left” and “right” views in Israel. Yet these gaps, at least during this era, are far less significant than people think. I’m going to tell an anecdote that illustrates this point even as it seems to contradict it.

First, though, let me quickly add that these debates have been very important in the past. After the 1967 war, Israeli society conducted a quarter-century-long argument that, in the end, had no material application. The question was: Should Israel trade territory (the lands captured in the 1967 war) for peace or should it keep most of them on the twin assumptions that Israel had a claim and that the Arabs would never make full peace.

This debate was at first an abstraction since the Arab and Palestinian side did not seek peace for a long time. Then it was disrupted by the peace agreement with Egypt (a right-wing government returned the Sinai). Finally, in a sense, the two sides agreed to test the assumptions of the debate in the 1990s’ Oslo process. (The peace with Jordan also involved some territorial concessions by Israel.)

The majority of Israelis overwhelmingly agreed that the Oslo experiment was a failure from the point of view of thinking that giving up land would bring full and final peace to the conflict. Some hold that the experiment was worth making, others not. What is important, though, is that the effort was made and the result showed that neither the Palestinians nor Syria was ready to make full peace in 2000. Nothing has changed in this regard during the last decade.

Thus, a new Israeli consensus was made:

–In exchange for full peace, Israel would give up all of the Gaza Strip and almost all of the West Bank, with either border adjustments or land swaps to adjust the borders by about three percent (for incorporating some Jewish towns just across the new border into Israel and secure the main Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway).

–There was a big doubt that the Palestinians were ready for a full peace and Israel should be more skeptical than it had been with the Oslo experiment, which cost the lives of thousands of Israelis and actually made the West more hostile in the end.

–True, there is no consensus about precisely how east Jerusalem should be handled. What is basically accepted is the highest priority is incorporating into Israel the Jewish Quarter of the Old City (captured by Jordan in the 1948 war and with all of its Jewish inhabitants deliberately expelled), access to it through the tiny Armenian Quarter (about one city block), and the Western Wall, with the Temple Mount next. The Arab-inhabited areas are likely to be traded away to Palestinian state in exchange as long as there is no significant security threat to the Israeli portion of the city.

–Palestinian refugees must be resettled in Palestine, not Israel.

–The rise of an Islamist threat, including the seizure of the Gaza Strip by Hamas, made real peace seem even further off.

–The status quo really is sustainable for a long period of time. Yes, it really is. And if Palestinian misery is the motive force to break the deadlock then why don’t we see any eagerness to make peace, negotiate with Israel, end the “occupation,” and get a state on the part of the Palestinians themselves?

Within this framework, the governments of prime ministers Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert, and Benjamin Netanyahu have all functioned along similar lines. There is no strong alternative vision within Israel. The reason for that is that there is no real alternative to current policies.

Now, having given this context here is the anecdote. During a dialogue meeting, one of many, between different viewpoints in Israeli society, there was a panel discussion on which Yossi Sarid participated along with some who hold right-wing views. Sarid, one of the Israeli left’s most important veteran leaders, is now formally retired from politics. He is widely respected for his honesty, open mind, and his usual willingness to think “inconsistently,” which is to me one of the highest virtues.

According to the account, Sarid said: “There is no way to prevent the division of Jerusalem, and giving away Eastern Jerusalem and the Arab neighborhoods to Palestinian rule.”

Another panelist, Avi Rath, replied, “We have seen what happens when land gets given away to the Arabs. They [the Arabs] don’t just sit quietly and eat hummus….”

Sarid reportedly got up and walked out of the room.

As I said earlier, this appears to illustrate the wide gap in Israeli views, yet this apparent chasm is easily bridged in practice if not in the passions thus aroused.

First, both Sarid and Rath know that Jerusalem is not about to be divided because there is no comprehensive peace agreement on the horizon for many years. This is an abstract debate. While Sarid and others on the left are horrified by the idea that trying to hold onto Jewish settlements or parts of Jerusalem could destroy the chance for full and permanent peace at some future point, they also know (unlike many foreign observers) that this is not the problem at present. In 2000, for example, Barak offered to yield on virtually all of these points and the Palestinian leadership still rejected peace.

Second, they both also know that Jerusalem would only be so divided in exchange for a full and realistic peace that would end the conflict. Sarid and Rath are repeating an argument that could have taken place-and frequently did so–forty years ago.

If Israelis are ever confronted with the immediacy of dividing Israel they would be doing it in a situation where the reward would be a credible end to the conflict and a remarkable improvement in Israel’s situation and their own lives. To make concessions in exchange for a great opportunity is tempting, to make them in exchange for nothing, a weaker position, or still more extensive demands for Israel’s unilateral concessions is not so attractive to Israelis.

Even if this were to happen, some would still oppose doing so, yet their numbers would be greatly diminished. To repeat: a very high standard of proof would be needed that things would be different and that there would be a lot more hummus-eating than fighting going on. And Sarid would by no means be one of those who would accept less.

Third, despite Sarid stating it so bluntly, there would be a real margin for negotiation. Israelis have no particular passion for keeping the “Arab neighborhoods” aside from the security aspect. They have a very different feeling about the Old City, and particularly the Jewish Quarter and Western Wall. This is not to say that any decision on Jerusalem would be easy but that if everything else were to be in place this issue alone would never make peace impossible.

And finally, Sarid knows–and it makes him very unhappy to admit it even to himself–that the record shows territorial concessions by Israel don’t bring full peace and may make things worse at times.

You know what? That’s probably the real difference between mainstream left and right in Israel: the left feels miserable in having to admit that the land-for-peace approach with the Palestinians isn’t going to work until they make a paradigm shift. The right feels a bit more smug about it and in many cases are happy to continue having the settlements, though seeking far less territory than in the pre-1993 period.

I guess that’s how I know I belong to the left side of the spectrum: I would love there to be a two-state solution, even if that required giving up the Arab neighborhoods of east Jerusalem and almost all of the Jewish settlements (with minor border modifications to incorporate into Israel the large settlement blocs), but I’m certainly ready to accept reality. I may be unhappy about it but I’m not so stupid as to pretend the situation fits my preferences.

So Israelis can get quite heated about discussing the future of Jerusalem or other issues about the shape of a comprehensive peace agreement. But no matter how many media articles, conferences, plans, speeches, or whatever debate about Jerusalem or the conflict or peace one thing is certain:

Until the day comes when the Palestinian Authority offers a credible proposal that will bring full peace, resettle refugees in Palestine, provide serious security guarantees, include border modifications or territorial swaps, end incitement and terrorism, and include the PA’s ability to deliver the Gaza Strip, these debates will remain academic ones.

On the Palestinian side, debates on these issues, must less offers of real compromises or concessions, have not even begun. Let me repeat that for emphasis: These discussions have not begun, they are non-existent. Indeed, outside of the official PA line, which has not changed since 1994, the main alternative is the Hamas position. There are many in Fatah who sound like Hamas, albeit with nationalist arguments replacing Islamist ones and the next leaders of Fatah may be far closer to Hamas than is Mahmoud Abbas.

Peace is not at hand, nor is the division of Jerusalem.

Only when there is a clear Palestinian stance in favor of a workable two-state solution (and despite the blabbering of foreign “experts” and others this just doesn’t exist) will Israelis have to make tough decisions. Sarid knows it, so does Rath, and so should we all.

*Barry Rubin’s latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books, go to You can read and subscribe to his blog at .

The Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center
Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya, P.O. Box 167, Herzliya, 46150, Israel – Phone: – Fax:


  1. I used to think as you being on the left of the spectrum. However, after mush research…giving up land is not only dangerous as falls into their multi-phased destruction of ISrael plan as formulated in the 1970’s, but it is also immoral to the Jewish people to force us to give up more of our land.

    What then, be left with a swath 8 miles wide in places? Is this fair? Is this secure?

    There was already a two-state solution imposed unfairly on us(even immorally since we did not have a say about giving up our land -77% of it) by Brittain/UK. Wasn’t it nice of them to give away 77% of our land to foreigners and settlers in order to create a new never-before-existing Arab-Muslim country…as if the Middle East wasn’t big enough to create another Arab- Muslim county somewhere else. Why not Uganda, even? 😉

    Not only was much of it owned by the Jewish Fund but the East Bank of the Land of Israel was home to also continued unbroken Jewish residence as the West Bank of the Land of Israel is.

    Never-the-less-it was carried out…people assumed that there would be no hostilities if the Land of Israel-The only National Jewish Homeland for thousands of years-were divided into a Two-State Solution with the Arab- Muslims taking hold of 77% of the Land of Israel and creating a Judenrein state (not to speak of the land holdings inthe M.E. by Arab Muslims notwithstanding the Jewish Homeland. Jews were dispossessed.

    This left the Jews with 23% of their land-the area from the Jordan river westward.

    Now the world wants to deceive us again and themselves into thinking that dividing the Land again-the remaining 23% will bring peace. How is this possible when dividing the Land and giving away 77% or two thirds did not bring peace. It should incidently, be noted that there has never been peace by giving up territory (Hitler, Chamberlain, Roosevelt vis-avis- Checkoslovakia).

    Obviously, withdrawing from the North up to the Litany river in Lebanon-the Security buffer, which prevented most attacks from reaching the rest of the north of ISrael until 2000-has not brought peace. It has brought us only war It shold be noted that. Lebanon is also like a Jordan a country that was carved up and invented by Europeans. Historically, the Land of ISrael’s northern border is the Litany River. But nobody tried to annex it. Israel was only intersted in a security buffer.

    Expelling Jews from their land in Gush Katif/Gaza the southern coastal plane of Israel and hading the Arab settlers sovereignty has not brought peace but created worse problems with many more missiles and mortars being launched at Israel for years. The unfettered smuggling of weapons into Gaza from Egypt goes unabated. Apart from lip service by a supposed ally we hear nothing from the Egyptians on the issue.

    Begin gave back the Sinai starting in 1979 (a process ending in 1982). There is no real peace with Egypt. Historically, the Sinai is a land with thousands fo years of Jewish history.

    Unfortunately, the "peace treaty" is treated from the Egyptian side as a cease-fire rather than a bonified treaty with the only reason to give it nominal support is due to the billions in US aid and advanced military weaponary.

    Land for Peace has not worked Even, in July 2010 a parliment member in Jordan called for Jordanian action to reoccupy the land west of the Jordan river (the entirety of the present day state of Israel) and unify the two sides. Note: Israel gave up some territory to Jordan as part of the Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty.

    Only Peace for Peace is fair.

    Population Transfer is the best chance for peace.
    However, since Jordan decided to accept an Arab-Muslim state on the Land of Israel’s east bank (77%) and subsequently, fought to destroy the 23% remaining Israeli state, several times, Jordan must bear responsibility.

  2. It is very clear that most people in Israel and the Western world do not or refuse to look at the entire picture. The Palestinian problem is nothing to do with land and peace with the Israelis but rather a religous war between Islam and everybody else. One only has to look at the Islamic sources or listen to their media to understand what the real truth is. So sorry Barry your report like those of many others does even begin to discuss hte real issues


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