Foreign Minsiter Avigdor Lieberman 311 (R).
(photo credit: REUTERS/Uriel Sinai)
Moshe Ya’alon and Avigdor Lieberman, two of the most senior ministers in the
Netanyahu government, spoke earlier this week about a conceptual shift that
Israel believes needs to be made by the international community in its approach
toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Both ministers suggested that instead
of aspiring to resolve that conflict at present, a more realistic approach would
be one that seeks merely to manage it.
Foreign Minister Lieberman said in
an address to senior Israeli diplomats that PA leader Mahmoud Abbas was “not a
partner for anything.” Lieberman went on to say that “anyone who says that it
will be possible to achieve peace with the Palestinians in the coming years is
mistaken and is misleading [others].” Juxtaposing the absence of a Palestinian
partner with the broader regional instability, Lieberman spoke about the need to
“adapt thinking and diplomacy to reality, and to realize that the key word in
our relations with the Palestinians needs to be managing the conflict and not
resolving the conflict.”
Deputy Prime Minister Ya’alon claimed that the
Netanyahu government has already chalked up a major diplomatic achievement in
that area by having “convinced the American administration that there is no way
to solve the conflict in one or two years.” In a meeting with Englishspeaking
Likud members, Ya’alon went on to say that the US was “trying to manage the
conflict now, rather than solve it.”
Irrespective of whether Ya’alon’s
assertion was accurate or not (The Jerusalem Post
, which reported this story,
noted that no American confirmation had been given), there is no denying that
the Israeli government has successfully won important international support for
at least some of its views about the ways in which the conflict with the
Palestinians ought to be managed.
Specifically, it has gained the backing
of key Western countries in preventing the Palestinians from exploiting the
current impasse in the peace process to make diplomatic gains at Israel’s
expense. One excellent example of that can be found in the adept way the
Netanyahu government enlisted crucial support from the US and a number of
European countries to stymie the Palestinians’ bid to win statehood from the UN
unilaterally this past autumn.
Another example of the government’s
diplomatic success can be found in the decision by important members of the
international community to boycott the most recent Durban Conference.
two other issues, the Israeli government has been less successful at persuading
its allies in the West to adopt its view of conflict and the ways in which it
should be managed.
Primarily, the government has failed to convince the
US and parts of Europe that the current intractability of the conflict stems
solely from the absence of a sincere Palestinian partner. Rather, those
countries have maintained their dialogue with Abbas as well as their ongoing
financial support for the PA, though they have indicated that this might change
if Abbas were to form a coalition with Hamas.
Secondly, Israel’s Western
allies have also indicated that they believe there are other ways of managing
the conflict beyond merely preventing the Palestinians from exploiting it to
make unilateral diplomatic gains. One mechanism for conflict management that has
repeatedly been proposed by Western countries is for the parties to resolve two
of the less contentious issues, separately and before the others.
call the parties to present as soon as possible to the Quartet comprehensive
proposals on territory and security,” read a joint statement made by the UK,
Germany, France and Portugal just last week.
The government, by all
signs, is vigorously opposed to making any such territorial proposal. Ya’alon
told his Likud audience that Israel had rejected a similar request by the US
administration to resolve the question of borders first. He said at that
opportunity, “When Obama said borders would be decided first, we rejected it
strongly. We said clearly, we’re not going to fall again into the Oslo trap and
let the Palestinians get without giving.”
That is certainly a valid
concern that needs to be addressed. However, Ya’alon limited his argument to
what the Palestinians stand to gain from an agreement on the borders of a future
Palestinian state, the establishment of which would be contingent upon the
resolution of the conflict as a whole. He conveniently ignored what Israel
stands to gain from such an agreement: the freedom to build in all areas that
lie within its future borders.
In September this year US Secretary of
State Hillary Clinton said, “If there were an agreement on borders, then there
would be no more controversy about settlements, because everybody would know
what side of the border is for Palestine and what side is for
Netanyahu, moreover, would no longer have to complain about
being upbraided by his allies every time a construction tender for an area
beyond the Green Line was published, as he was by German Chancellor Angela
Merkel in October over construction in Gilo.
Could this prospective boon
have slipped past Ya’alon? That is unlikely since he, Lieberman and Netanyahu
are by no means fools. They have been made eminently aware of what Israel stands
to gain from taking this course of action that is being advocated by its closest
allies as a way of managing the conflict.
The best explanation for the
government’s decision lies in domestic politics. Netanyahu fears
alienating the far right wing, which is opposed to any Israeli concession of any
part of the territories captured in the Six Day War under any
circumstances. An agreement about borders would stipulate where Israel is
allowed build in the territories and where it is not, and it is the domestic
political ramifications of that decision that deter Netanyahu and his