Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu's speech last night can only be classified as a failed public relations exercise, mainly because it catered just to the right-wing constituency that put him in the position he is in.
To all others, without exception, the speech was disappointing. The Palestinians and Arabs reacted angrily. The Kadima party criticized the speech as harmful to the interests of the Israeli people. Further afield, meanwhile, European and American reactions focused on reiterating international demands for a complete cessation of settlement building including so-called "natural growth", something Netanyahu failed to commit to in his speech.
Some reactions dwelt on Netanyahu's supposed acceptance of the idea of a Palestinian state. But the way he dealt with that issue was farcical. He started by emphasizing his belief that the West Bank and Gaza are part of the historical home of the Jewish people. However, he said, because of the Palestinian presence, Israel had to cede some ground on the Jewish people's historic rights to those lands. Thus, if Palestinians would recognize Israel as a Jewish state, accept a demilitarized entity, allow Israel and international actors to maintain control over Palestinian borders and air space, accept that Jerusalem be the "undivided" capital of Israel and agree to solve the Palestinian refugee problem outside of Israel's borders, then he would accept that Palestinians raise their own flag, play their own national anthem and call the areas under their control a state. Not so much Bibi as Bobo, it was a policy address fit for a clown.
The entity that Netanyahu described does not qualify it as a state. In addition, the preconditions he stipulated for its establishment rendered the negotiations process he referred to as meaningful as he meant it to be (and as it has been so far), namely not at all. One of many ironies of his speech is that when he referred to relations between Israel and the Arab countries he was clear in refusing any preconditions. When it came to Israeli-Palestinian relations, the conditions were mounting so quickly that nothing was left beyond them.
Netanyahu's speech represents a serious challenge to the peace camp in Israel, the peace camp in the Arab world, including among the Palestinians and, more importantly, the new American administration. The main conclusion that can be drawn from the speech is that Netanyahu has given priority to the needs and requirements of his right-wing constituency and treated with a great deal of contempt the requirements and needs of everyone else.
The American administration must now work hard to repair the damage to domestic public opinion in both Israel and among the Palestinians that Netanyahu's speech has caused. Creating a more conducive public debate and moderating the internal political discourse on both sides is crucial to a successful and meaningful peace process.
That might take time. But stopping the deterioration in the domestic political arenas and reversing the negative trends on both sides are no less important than restarting a negotiations process. Netanyahu's speech indicates that both the Israeli government and the public it panders to are not mature enough yet to commit to the basic and unavoidable requirements of a successful peace process. Clear messages from the real friends of Israel in the West, accompanied with significant pressure, are now needed in order to encourage the necessary change.
The same, but in a different way, can be said for the internal Palestinian political situation. The trend of radicalization in public opinion and the political division are not conducive to a successful peace process. This also requires the attention of the international community, which must encourage the relevant regional powers to play a more positive role. - Published 15/6/2009 © bitterlemons.org
Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is vice-president for community outreach at Birzeit University and a former Palestinian Authority minister of planning.
AN ISRAELI VIEW
Walking between the raindrops
by Yossi Alpher
There is something pathetic about the evolution of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's policy speech at Bar Ilan University on Sunday. He and his advisers apparently decided they had to reply to US President Barack Obama's Cairo University speech earlier this month using the very same format of an address at an academic institution. Worse, they obviously first decided that the prime minister must make a major policy speech to address Obama's demands, and only afterwards began to discuss the policy innovations Netanyahu would present.
In contemplating how to respond to the pressure felt from Washington regarding settlements and a two-state solution, Netanyahu could look back on a long and diverse history of Israeli responses to American pressure--responses that roughly fit into three categories. 1) Defiance: PM Menachem Begin responding to President Ronald Reagan in 1981: "What do you think we are, a banana republic?" 2) The bypass option: PM Ariel Sharon initiating unilateral disengagement from Gaza a few years ago in order to avoid dealing with Israel's roadmap obligations (for Netanyahu, the equivalent could be a dynamic initiative to negotiate with Syria). And 3) compliance after crisis: PM Yitzhak Rabin only agreeing to US terms for a second disengagement agreement with Egypt in 1975 after Secretary of State Henry Kissinger had declared a punishing "reassessment".
Netanyahu seems to have opted for a fourth option: give everyone--the US administration, his coalition, the Palestinians--a little of what they want. Confuse them, too. But also do something dramatic to satisfy the Americans.
Netanyahu devoted the better part of his speech to describing the Israeli-Palestinian sphere as he would like to see it: economic prosperity brought on by Arab investment will lay a firm foundation for peace; Palestinian recognition of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people is a sine qua non for peace; and (a new demand) international guarantees are required to ensure that the Palestinians don't endanger Israel. All this, to reassure his coalition.
If all these conditions are met, he allowed, "we will be prepared. . . for a demilitarized Palestinian state alongside the Jewish state. . . . two people, side by side, each with its flag and its anthem." Then came a few more conditions: Jerusalem has to remain "united as the capital of Israel" and there will be no return of refugees to Israel.
None of this prevented Netanyahu from also offering the Palestinians negotiations without preconditions. Surely I'm not the only one who got confused. While both Palestinians and the Obama administration can consider the prime minister's readiness to use the term "Palestinian state" as a step forward, they can hardly view Netanyahu's overall approach as an appealing platform for renewing negotiations.
This is certainly the case when it comes to the settlements issue. Netanyahu vowed to allow construction for "natural growth" and never mentioned the outposts or, for that matter, the roadmap that demands a settlement freeze. In Cairo, Obama staked his prestige on his demand for Israeli compliance over settlements; this is not what he wanted to hear on Sunday. True, Netanyahu wisely avoided dwelling on the Iranian threat, thereby evading the impression that he is abusing it so as not to confront the Palestinian issue. Yet he never fully confronted the Palestinian issue.
Netanyahu also said a few important things to the Palestinians that they don't often hear: the root of the conflict is their refusal to recognize the Jews' right to a state in their historic homeland; the closer we seem to get to agreement, e.g., in 2000 and last year, the more they seem to distance themselves. He also responded to Obama's mistaken assertion in Cairo that Israel was created because of the Holocaust: "our right to the land does not derive from the disasters that we have suffered."
At the end of the day, another right-wing leader, steeped in Revisionist ideology, had agreed to partition the land into two states. This cannot have been easy for Netanyahu. Yet his was not an unequivocal acceptance of the peace process with all it entails. Accordingly, his coalition will hold; Washington will keep up the pressure; and PLO leader Mahmoud Abbas will refuse to renew negotiations. Netanyahu "walked between the raindrops" and thinks he never got wet.- Published 15/6/2009 © bitterlemons.org
Yossi Alpher is coeditor of the bitterlemons.org family of internet publications. He is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University.
A PALESTINIAN VIEW
Thus spoke Netanyahu
by Mustafa Abu Sway
In "Thus Spoke Zarathustra", Friedrich Nietzsche's false prophet announced the famous dictum about the "death of God". Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu yesterday announced the death of hopes for peace and a Palestinian state. No Palestinian refugee right of return. No Jerusalem for the Palestinians. No freeze to settlement building. No sovereign airspace, no real Palestinian sovereignty at all.
And it gets worse. According to Netanyahu, the Palestinians have no historic roots or rights in Palestine. The Palestinians just happen to be there. For Netanyahu, the West Bank is the biblical land of the Jewish forefathers, going back to Abraham, and belongs to no one else. This is his response to US President Barack Obama's demand to freeze the settlements. All Israeli governments have supported the settlers' colonizing projects. Dividing Jewish colonies in the West Bank into "legal" and "illegal" settlements is intended solely to mislead the world. All of them, with no exception, are illegal under international law.
Why is it that interfaith trialogue stresses Abraham as our common father if Palestinian Christians and Muslims are not recognized as his children on equal footing? Is it because the mother of the Arabs, Hagar, was a slave girl? This is 3,500-year-old thinking. When convenient, Abraham is used as a cushion, a sort of a comfort zone, to avoid the real issues on the ground. The history of Palestine did not begin with Abraham. Even in the Old Testament, when Abraham arrived in the Holy Land, there were Palestinians. When Abraham needed to bury Sara, he did not claim any divine right to own the land; he paid 400 silver shekels to the Palestinians.
Claiming to share US President Barack Obama's vision for peace (Obama welcomed Netanyahu's speech as an important step), Netanyahu called on the Palestinian leadership to return to negotiations "without any preconditions", a euphemism for rejecting all relevant UN resolutions and previous understandings, including the roadmap. This is a clear setback to the work of the Quartet, as well as to the Arab Peace Initiative. The Palestinian Authority, however, is doing nothing except recycling the "no partner for peace" mantra, throwing it back at Israeli leaders.
Netanyahu also promoted his notion of economic peace. He wants Arabs not only to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, but also to invest in Israel. He wants full normalization without offering anything in return. He talked about tourism and mentioned Christian religious sites with no mention of Muslim sites. He talked about utilizing solar energy and laying pipelines to Africa and Europe, as if all roads lead to Tel Aviv. There is no mention of an end to the Israeli occupation of the Syrian Golan Heights, but he is willing to go to Damascus. This man cannot be serious.
Netanyahu presented an image of a peaceful Israeli society. The root of the problem, he claimed, was Arab rejection of the Jews' right to a national home in their historic land. Of course, nothing is mentioned about the colonial nature of the Zionist project or the misery it caused for the Palestinian people and others for over 60 years.
All the problems, according to Netanyahu, come from without. This includes his blurb about Iran's nuclear threat. If Netanyahu truly shares the vision of President Obama, then he should talk about a world without nuclear weapons, including getting rid of Israel's nuclear arsenal. This is the opposite of what Netanyahu is demanding; his call for "strong security guarantees" is a euphemism for nuclear power.
Speaking at the Begin-Sadat Center at Bar Ilan University was a further ironic twist. The deal between Israel and Egypt was based on withdrawing from Egyptian land that was occupied in 1967. The same logic should apply to the Syrian Golan Heights, the Lebanese Sheba Farms, and the Palestinian Gaza Strip and West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Rather than comparing himself to Theodor Herzl, as if he was making a historical speech, Netanyahu should have compared himself to Menachem Begin, who understood the land-for-peace formula.
Netanyahu's demands are impossible. They could be shared only by his right-wing coalition. If he does not change his position, which is unlikely, the world has to wait until the next Israeli government before hopes of peace may be rekindled.- Published 15/6/2009 © bitterlemons.org
Dr. Mustafa Abu Sway teaches at al-Quds University.
AN ISRAELI VIEW
Go dance in the streets
by Yisrael Harel
Sunday night witnessed an earthquake in Israel: Binyamin Netanyahu, head of the Likud--the party that once advocated a Jewish state on both banks of the Jordan River ("this bank's ours, this one too")--recognized a Palestinian state. Thus did this ideological party forego not only the East Bank of the Jordan but much of the West Bank as well.
Even if his coalition holds and his party does not splinter, from herein Netanyahu's declaration commits not only the political left, which in any case supported him, but the main party on the right. Netanyahu in fact created a very broad Israeli coalition in favor of a Palestinian state. A new consensus has emerged in Israel.
On November 29, 1947, the United Nations General Assembly decided to partition the Land of Israel roughly equally between two states, Arab and Jewish. In the internal Jewish debate that took place on the eve of partition, broad sectors of the public opposed this injustice and proposed to turn it down. Some threatened a violent schism. But when the General Assembly decided on the partition, crowds of Jews took to the streets to celebrate. Even though the decision tore away large pieces from the heart of the homeland, including the ancient capital of Jerusalem (slated to become an international city), they celebrated the partition with singing and dancing. The Arabs, on the other hand, rejected partition outright: they launched a war of annihilation against the small Jewish Yishuv that had agreed to become a tiny country.
Sunday night, barely minutes after the Netanyahu speech, the Palestinians hastened to reject his proposal that in return for Israel's agreement that they become a state, they recognize Israel as a Jewish state and the national home of the Jewish people.
Just as in 1937 (rejection of the Peel Commission partition proposal), 1947 (as noted, the UN partition), 1993 (they drowned Oslo in rivers of blood) and 2000 (Yasser Arafat rejected Ehud Barak's offer at Camp David), now too they rejected Netanyahu's proposal. The late Aba Eban used to say that the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.
Had they accepted Netanyahu's offer, I have no doubt that there would have emerged in Israel an unprecedented consensus favoring a Palestinian state. The Likud would have split, the right-wing parties would have quit the coalition and a new Jewish coalition would have arisen, comprising half the Likud, Kadima, Labor and Yisrael Beitenu.
True, Netanyahu asserted that this would be a demilitarized Palestinian state, that it would have to recognize Israel as the national home of the Jewish people and that it would not be able to enter into military alliances with states hostile to Israel. Is this hard for the Arabs to accept? It was hard for the Jews to accept the 1947 partition decision. Why, then, do they repeatedly reject Israel's generous offers of a sovereign and independent territorial base?
The answer is simple: more than they want a state for themselves, they don't want the Jews to have their own state in the Middle East. They have never recognized that right and apparently never will.
This, President Obama, is the kernel of the truth. According to your concept, the objective of the Palestinian struggle is an independent Palestinian state. This is where you are wrong, as are quite a few Israelis. Hence, even if you keep pressuring Netanyahu and squeezing him like a lemon, his next concessions will still not satisfy the Palestinians. It's not concessions they want, but rather the disappearance of a Jewish-Zionist entity in this region.- Published 15/6/2009 © bitterlemons.org
Yisrael Harel heads the Institute for Zionist Strategy in Jerusalem and writes a weekly political column in Haaretz. He founded the Yesha Council (Council of Jewish Settlements in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza District) and headed it for 15 years.
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