In the next two weeks, Prime Minister Netanyahu will try to do the impossible: to devise a peace initiative that is substantial enough to avert a major conflict with the Obama administration, yet conservative enough to avoid the breakup of his government coalition.
Shaul Arieli and Illan Paz, two retired senior IDF officers who now work at the Tel Aviv-based think tank Economic Cooperation Foundation, can't see Bibi pulling it off. "A daring political move or an initiative to improve the situation on the ground in the West Bank will make his government fall," said Arieli, who used to head the peace process administration under Prime Minister Barak. If Netanyahu not take bold steps to advance the peace process and to improve the economic situation in the West Bank, he risks a third intifada and a major crisis in Israel's relations with Washington, said Paz, who was the governor of the West Bank and commander of the Israeli military forces there in the second intifada.
The two are rather skeptical that Bibi will follow in the footsteps of Menachem Begin, the legendary Likud leader who withdrew from the entire Sinai Peninsula in return for a peace agreement with Egypt. Let's wait and see, they say. They both agree that without a meaningful political process, Israel will face an increase in Palestinian terrorism. "There will be another wave of terrorism," said Paz.
My fellow travelers and I left the ECF with a heavy heart. The two Israeli experts, who have dealt so closely with Palestinian violence, are speaking so matter-of-fact about another wave of terrorism. It was chilling.
But the first day of our fact finding mission ended with a heartwarming experience. At Peace Now's Tel Aviv office, we met with a group of energetic, sophisticated, dedicated young activists. There were seven student organizers who shared with us their successful efforts to mobilize support for Peace Now on university campuses. It was inspiring to talk to Israel's next generation of peace activists: brave, smart, patriotic, sober yet unabashedly hopeful.
The situation may seem bleak today, one of them said, but we should always remember that things in Israel change very quickly.