For Zion's Sake: Netanyahu means it

Netanyahu has also gone beyond declarative positions and has put forward his own framework for a permanent solution.

July 9, 2013 22:33
US Secretary of State John Kerry and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, June 27, 2013.

Kerry and Netanyahu meeting 370. (photo credit: Matty Stern/US Embassy Tel Aviv)

When Nicolas Sarkozy was caught on an open mic lamenting to Barack Obama about how Binyamin Netanyahu “is a liar,” Israelis were aghast. Yet when Netanyahu talks about Palestinian statehood, many Israelis, including Netanyahu’s allies, seem to think the same thing.

Only recently, Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon claimed Netanyahu only goes along with US efforts aimed at Palestinian statehood because Netanyahu “knows that the Arabs will never come to an agreement with Israel.”

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Even Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, who reportedly urged Netanyahu to get Danon under control following the latter’s comments, has also said that Netanyahu’s Bar-Ilan speech was merely “part of our maneuvering” vis-à-vis the US.

Likud MK Tzipi Hotovely has similarly dismissed Bar- Ilan as “a tactical speech.”

Leaving Netanyahu’s apologists aside, it is still easy to understand why people have a hard time taking Netanyahu’s professed interest in the two-state solution at face value, even if the reality is that they should.

Netanyahu is the son of a devotee of Ze’ev Jabotinsky (who first led the opposition to Palestinian statehood, then called “partition”), who deemed Menachem Begin a “weakling” for ceding the Sinai Peninsula. Throughout his public life Netanyahu toed the same line.

Netanyahu’s book, A Place Among the Nations, published just before the signing of the first Oslo agreement, is practically a 400-page argument against Palestinian statehood. In it, Netanyahu decries even a demilitarized Palestinian state, debunks the “demographic demon,” states that Jordan is the Palestine state, and proposes local Palestinian autonomy under Israeli sovereignty as a permanent solution for Palestinians within Israel’s borders.

In his shorter Fighting Terrorism, published in 1995, Netanyahu also attacked Palestinian statehood and the handing of Gaza over to the PLO.

As chairman of the Likud during that same period, Netanyahu’s opposition to the Oslo Accords led some to claim he was responsible for inciting Rabin’s assassination.

And despite the Right’s criticism of Netanyahu for failing during his first term as prime minister to reverse the Oslo process, many on the Left blame Netanyahu for causing it to implode.

After losing the elections, he apparently retained his negative attitude toward Palestinian statehood. In a 2001 video which surfaced in 2010, for example, a candid Netanyahu touts how he torpedoed Oslo by obtaining a letter from US Secretary of State Warren Christopher stating that Israel could define military zones in Judea and Samaria.

Then, in 2002, he led the Likud’s Central Committee to repudiate prime minister Ariel Sharon’s overtures toward Palestinian statehood by having the body approve a resolution against the establishment of another state west of the Jordan.

When Netanyahu was again elected prime minister in 2009, after campaigning against a pro-withdrawal Kadima party, there was every reason to believe this attitude would remain. But within three months of being sworn in, Netanyahu declared at Bar-Ilan University that “we are ready to agree to a real peace agreement, a demilitarized Palestinian state.”

At the time, the Obama administration had subjected Netanyahu to intense pressure with almost weekly pronouncements about how Israel must stop the “illegitimate” settlements and how a Palestinian state was necessary.

The administration even hinted that it would not act against Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons if Israel did not get on board with a new peace push.

Given the circumstances, it was easy to imagine that Netanyahu was merely compromising on a semantic principle (“statehood” vs. “autonomy”), but not the substance (since it would theoretically be demilitarized) in the service of tangible gains.

With the passage of time, however, that explanation has become less plausible.

At first, Netanyahu referenced Palestinian statehood sparingly; such as at the UN General Assembly or in joint press conferences. The infrequency of the statements evinced a politician who may have taken a public position which was not necessarily his personal belief, but which political circumstances had compelled him to adopt.

But since then, the frequency of Netanyahu’s two-state declarations has increased – even as US pressure on Israel has all but evaporated (notwithstanding US Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts).

More than that, as of late they have taken on a new dimension.

In early April, Netanayhu told the press, “My interest is what’s good for Israel and I have no desire to head toward a bi-national state, a situation I oppose” and that Israel should be prepared for “relinquishing land” in order “to ensure the Jewish and democratic character of Israel.”

In early May, he told a meeting of senior Foreign Ministry officials that a peace agreement was necessary to “prevent Israel from becoming a bi-national state.”

In June he warned the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee against “a bi-national state, which Israel does not want” and which is “not good” for Israel.

Later that month, Netanyahu reiterated, “we don’t want a bi-national country.”

Not only does this barrage of statements on demographic fears mark yet another reversal, it marks a different kind of thinking.

Unlike a desire for peace as the basis for territorial concessions, the demographic argument does not depend on whether Israel has a peace partner. It posits that if Israel does not create a Palestinian state, it cannot survive as a Jewish state, regardless of whether the two-state solution can solve the conflict. Thus, unlike the Bar-Ilan speech, in which Netanyahu said that Israel is “ready” to accept a Palestinian state, by citing the demographic argument Netanyahu is implying that Israel must establish a Palestinian state.

The demographic talk also differs from his previous statements because with it Netanyahu is not merely staking out a position on the political map, but reciting a policy rationale for that position. That’s not something a politician who doesn’t believe in a given position typically does, particularly when there are more generic rationales available which would provide him with wiggle room for later abandoning the position.

Netanyahu has also gone beyond declarative positions and has put forward his own framework for a permanent solution. He most clearly delineated this framework in a May 2011 speech to the Knesset.

Among other things, it included a demilitarized Palestinian state, a long-term IDF presence along the Jordan River and that Israel maintain the “settlement blocs.”

Those last two points may come off like benefits for Israel at first blush, but their unspoken corollaries are relinquishing Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and ceding land outside the settlement “blocs” – which could mean up to 90 percent of Judea and Samaria and the destruction of many Jewish communities.

Netanyahu called these parameters “the principles that guide my path.”

And they appear to continue to guide him. They were reportedly used by Netanyahu’s envoy Isaac Molho in negotiations with Saeb Erekat in February 2012. More recently, an anonymous Likud minister told Haaretz in June that “Netanyahu understands that for a peace agreement, it will be necessary to withdraw from more than 90% of the West Bank” and to relinquish Israeli sovereignty in the Jordan Valley.

Taken separately, the Bar-Ilan speech, the declarations in favor of Palestinian statehood made since, the newfound adherence to the demographic argument, and Netanyahu’s peace parameters, might be explained away as tactical maneuvers, and what Netanyahu actually says might be discarded as lies and posturing.

Taken together, however, they constitute four years and counting of a consistent policy in favor of Palestinian statehood. This policy will be the defining feature of Netanyahu’s tenure as prime minister and this – and not his statements from the opposition – will be, as Netanyahu surely knows, the legacy he leaves behind for future generations. That’s not something a prime minister takes lightly or fakes.

The writer is an attorney and director of Likud Anglos.

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