Encountering Peace: What does Netanyahu want?
By GERSHON BASKIN
Understanding what has been leaked, the PM should move forward with current Palestinian leadership as soon as possible.
The Al-Jazeera leaks on the extent of Palestinian concessions in previous
negotiations with Israel are being presented as earth-shattering throughout the
Arab world. The Palestinian Negotiations Affairs department’s own internal
documents demonstrate that the Palestinians have been willing to grant Israel
sovereignty over almost all of the neighborhoods in east Jerusalem. The
Palestinian leadership headed by President Mahmoud Abbas agreed to the model
proposed by former prime minister Ehud Olmert which would grant Israel a role in
the Old City of Jerusalem under a special system and even an international body
that would have guardianship or control over the Temple Mount/Haram al
For anyone who has been intimately involved in the negotiations
process over the past two decades, this is nothing new. In fact, most of the
concessions “leaked” were actually already made by Yasser Arafat when he
accepted the Clinton Parameters (albeit a year and a half too
Encountering Peace: To be suspect
Encountering Peace: The view is clearer from here
Arafat was even ready to grant Israel sovereignty over Jewish
neighborhoods in east Jerusalem during Camp David in July 2000. Israeli leaders
have been misleading the public for years on the extent of Palestinian
concessions, and it was convenient and comfortable for the Palestinian
leadership to not be completely forthcoming on the details with their own
But now the truth is out there and the Palestinian leadership,
rather than trying to deny it, should face their people and show them to what
extent they were/are willing to go to end the Israeli occupation and bring about
Palestinian freedom and statehood.
The Palestinian leadership should be
proud that it has fully come to terms with what it will take to end this
occupation while maintaining the most basic and essential Palestinian national
IS THERE anything our leaders and people can learn
from these new disclosures of negotiations history? We now know how far the
Palestinians have been willing to go. Do we have any idea what our side
is willing to concede so that Israel’s national strategic interests of achieving
lasting peace with our neighbors can be materialized?
Do we have any idea what
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu wants? Even with all of my long-term intimate
knowledge of the issues and the players, I honestly have no idea what are his
thoughts, intentions, or plans are on the future of the two state solution which
he officially supports.
The problem here though is not that I have no
understanding of where Netanyahu would like to lead the nation, but that no one
knows (or at least no one in the public domain) and it appears that Netanyahu
himself does not know how to answer the question.
debate the question and some wager a guess. Members of his own party and
government are not even sure. The American administration has been trying to
understand Netanyahu’s position since he took office. It also fails to get
direct answers from the prime minister. The Europeans – even those who still
describe themselves as friends and allies – fail to see the logic of our
Increasing numbers of American and European Jews find
themselves without words when asked to defend policies that seem
Our enemies rejoice in the consistent enlargement of the
“boycott Israel” movement, and are anxiously waiting for Israel to be officially
declared a pariah state. And the Palestinians, whose future is on the line as
much as Israel’s, simply cannot understand how Netanyahu does not see that the
viability of the two-state solution is withering away with each passing
I am asked how Netanyahu can move ahead on peace with seriousness
and determination, given the nature of his coalition and the fragility of
coalition politics? This is the same question that US special envoy Dennis Ross
was sent by President Barack Obama to ask.
According to a close confidant
of Ross, Netanyahu replied that his problems vis-à-vis the Palestinians were
more substantive than mere coalition calculations. He did not relate to
ideological concerns such as the historic and religious significance of Judea
and Samaria, or to the claim of G-d-given rights and deeds to Jerusalem and the
Holy Land, but rather focused on specific issues concerning the security risks
involved in territorial withdrawal.
The most significant and detailed
security risk involves the security of the Jordan River border and the strategic
threat the country will face if rockets enter to the east of its center. He is
100 percent correct when he states that a rocket, even a homemade one fired from
the hills of Ramallah toward Ben-Gurion Airport could put an end to civil
aviation. This is definitely a strategic threat, unlike the same rockets shot at
Sderot which, while intolerable, are not a threat to national
ALL THE security experts I have spoken with, including several
US generals and senior NATO officers, have said there are real military and
security answers that would effectively guarantee security along the Jordan
River. The Palestinian leadership, including President Mahmoud Abbas, has said
in public and in private, that they are willing to find a way to meet all
security demands, including direct IDF involvement in patrols and monitoring
missions that would be established based on Israeli security
The recent “leaks” of Palestinian documents testify to a
willingness to meet Israeli security and other political demands. In fact, if
Netanyahu fully comprehends the significance of what has been leaked, he should
be compelled to move forward with the present Palestinian leadership as soon as
possible. Right now the only thing that will guarantee its continued rule is a
In other words, most security experts, including a
significant number of current and former IDf officers, Mossad and Shin Bet
(Israel Security Agency) officials, believe that the security risks from peace –
including a withdrawal from the West Bank based on the June 4, 1967 border with
agreed-on territorial swaps in the order of around 3%-4% – pose no real
strategic or security threat that cannot be answered.
On the other hand,
failure to reach peace raises some real unanswerable existential threats that
not only empower extremists locally and regionally, but also put an end to the
two-state solution, which is a death blow to the Zionist enterprise.
THEN, how do I answer the question? I say that Netanyahu is an intelligent man;
his understanding of the issues is not shallow. He knows what a potential
agreement looks like. He knows exactly what the parameters of peace are. He
knows how far the Palestinians can compromise, and he also has to be aware of
the consequences of not reaching an agreement.
That is exactly what is so
perplexing about the question.
I say that some Netanyahu experts have
said he is bound by the echoing voice of his father, Prof. Benzion Netanyahu,
the ultimate right-wing ideological historian.
Those experts say that as
long as he is alive, the prime minister will have great difficulty moving
forward on peace. He is 100 years old, and these experts say that his son’s
epiphany will come shortly after he dies. I have no ability to predict such
events. What I say is that Netanyahu is likely to undergo the same awakening
that has happened to almost every prime minister before him. The weight of
responsibility and the real resolvability of this conflict will push him
forward. It is only a matter of time – hopefully less time than that remaining
for the two-state solution.
This is of course wishful thinking. Never
before has the key to peace been so clearly in the hands of one
person. That is the striking and sad reality we find ourselves
The writer is the co-CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research
and Information (www.ipcri.org) and is in the process of founding the Center for
Israeli Progress (http://israeli-progress.org).