By Ted Belman
No doubt PM Netanyahu would have rather spent the last 18 months in hell than to have spent it participating in the peace process under brutal pressure by the Obama administration. Come to think of it, it must have been hell.
Keep in mind that Netanyahu was voted into office on a platform which denied the two-state solution. The Obama administration succeeded in forcing a dramatic change in that policy. Or did it? On June 14/09 Netanyahu delivered a speech at Bar Ilan University in which he appeared to accept a two state solution with these words,
“In my vision of peace, two peoples live freely, side-by-side, in amity and mutual respect. Each will have its own flag, its own national anthem, its own government.”
Although the world spun it as an acceptance, of a Palestinian state, I submit that the same words would apply to an autonomous entity. Notice that the all important word “state” was not employed.
Then he placed the blame for sixty years of war where it rightly belonged,
“And the simple truth is that the root of the conflict was, and remains, the refusal to recognize the right of the Jewish people to a state of their own, in their historic homeland.”
And he knew what to expect.
“The closer we get to an agreement with them, the further they retreat and raise demands that are inconsistent with a true desire to end the conflict.”
With Pres Obama’s concurrence, he called for “immediate negotiations without preconditions”. He also laid out principles that he would insist on.
“Therefore, a fundamental prerequisite for ending the conflict is a public, binding and unequivocal Palestinian recognition of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people. To vest this declaration with practical meaning, there must also be a clear understanding that the Palestinian refugee problem will be resolved outside Israel’s borders. For it is clear that any demand for resettling Palestinian refugees within Israel undermines Israel’s continued existence as the state of the Jewish people.”
“Clear commitments that in a future peace agreement, the territory controlled by the Palestinians will be demilitarized: namely, without an army, without control of its airspace, and with effective security measures to prevent weapons smuggling into the territory – real monitoring, and not what occurs in Gaza today. And obviously, the Palestinians will not be able to forge military pacts. “
Remember limited sovereignty or demilitarized state is autonomy only.
And finally he said “Israel needs defensible borders, and Jerusalem must remain the united capital of Israel”
Any student of the conflict would have known that all these prerequisites would never be agreed to and so, in effect, were non-starters. Obama nevertheless ran with it because it was the best he could get.
Throughout the following six months Obama stumbled and fell in his attempt to get Arab cooperation. He was left with no option other than to apply pressure on Netanyahu for a complete building freeze. Netanyahu succumbed and agreed to a ten month partial freeze to the great chagrin of his supporters.
Now that the freeze has ended, Obama is pressing for a two month extension. On Monday, Netanyahu addressed the Knesset and laid out his conditions for the continuation of the freeze. “If the Palestinian leadership will unequivocally say to its people that it recognizes Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, I will be ready to convene my government and ask for another suspension of construction for a fixed period.” This was carefully worded. First the Palestinians must say so then he will ask for a continuance. Of course it was rejected as Netanyahu knew it would be.
Dr Yitzhak Klein argued that this response was Netanyahu’s declaration of independence. By it, he was throwing down the gauntlet to four groups. To Obama, he said that recognition of Israel as a Jewish sate was a precondition to negotiations knowing that the American people in general and the Jews in particular would support his demand. To the Arab League, he was saying let’s move on to dealing with what really matters to you, namely, stopping Iran. To Barak and the Labor Party he was saying go ahead and leave the coalition. I will be happy to fight the next election on the centrality of the recognition issue. To Mahmud Abbas, he said “get lost”.
At this juncture, it doesn’t look like the negotiations will get started again. But the real issue is that the parties to the conflict will not compromise their positions and therefore no agreement is possible.. The Arabs will look to have the UN impose a solution but so far both the US and the EU have not encouraged such option. With the death of the peace process, perhaps they may change their minds.
Israel, on the other hand, must govern the territories as if there is no possibility of arriving at an end-of-conflict agreement. She cannot sit in limbo. Population growth on both sides must be accommodated. Infrastructure must be provided and security maintained. Arab construction has been without planning or oversight. Over 100,000 Arab homes have been built without permits. This must change. There must be a Master Plan for Arab communities and no construction must be permitted other than in accordance with the Plan and the law. There is a Master Plan for Jerusalem as an undivided city. It must be implemented.
For the last thirty or so years, Israel has honored an agreement with the US, not build new settlements. This agreement has restricted her building to the settlement blocs and to infilling in smaller settlements. She was also prevented from building in an area called E1 which connects Maaleh Adumin to Jerusalem. Obama’s insistence that there be a complete construction freeze is a fundamental breach in this agreement and has thus rendered it null and void. Israel is no longer bound by it. No doubt, Obama will try to resurrect it but Israel will resist and rightly so. Israel should return to building in the territories to accommodate its growing population there unfettered by the past agreement with the US.
To date, the law of occupation has been applied in these settlements. I expect that Israel will change this and vote to apply Israel law to at least the settlement blocs if not all settlements. She owes her citizens living in these settlements, no less. Such an act is tantamount to annexation. The settlements would thus become part of Israel.
Israel will continue to remove roadblocks and checkpoints and will continue to support the growth in the Palestinian economy. She will seek to normalize life as much as possible. The Palestinians can either reject such attempts or can cooperate with them for their own betterment. The US could also help by ending the peace process and leaving it to the parties to the conflict to work out a living arrangement.
Israel has been forced to devote a high percentage of its time to the peace process. She needs the respite to focus on domestic matters and Iran. Obama should take note. It is time that he too focused on solving his domestic problems and his Iran problem..
With the two-state solution in tatters, not likely to be restored, Israel should focus or providing the Palestinians with autonomy. In Netanyahu’s Bar Ilan speech he said
“We do not want to rule over them, we do not want to govern their lives, we do not want to impose either our flag or our culture on them.”
He also laid out a vision.
“I call on the talented entrepreneurs of the Arab world to come and invest here and to assist the Palestinians – and us – in spurring the economy. Together, we can develop industrial areas that will generate thousands of jobs and create tourist sites that will attract millions of visitors eager to walk in the footsteps of history – in Nazareth and in Bethlehem, around the walls of Jericho and the walls of Jerusalem, on the banks of the Sea of Galilee and the baptismal site of the Jordan. There is an enormous potential for archeological tourism, if we can only learn to cooperate and to develop it.”
Obama should let Israel get on with the job. He should help rather than hinder.