As the dust settles on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s troubled visit to America, it is time for him to take stock of the damage and embark on a diplomatic path that will rehabilitate relations with the Obama administration and shift US pressure from Jerusalem to Ramallah, where it is most needed.
The administration has evidently failed to internalize that a succession of ever-more generous peace offers from prime ministers Rabin, Barak, Sharon and Olmert were rebuffed by a Palestinian leadership that has yet to acknowledge Israel’s legitimacy, much less begin to explain to its own people the imperative for compromise.
The administration is also evidently unconvinced that Israel knows the status quo is working against us – that we need an accommodation in order to maintain a Jewish and democratic state. This despite the fact that our prime ministers, of Left and Right, including Netanyahu, have made plain their desire for the creation in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip of a Palestinian society more interested in its own political and economic stability than the destruction of the Zionist entity, and for a Palestinian state established in a climate of genuine reconciliation and wider Arab normalization.
Given the history of Palestinian rejection, the public is deeply skeptical about the chances of negotiations yielding the desired results. Since the Oslo Accords of 1993, 17 years of efforts under three presidents and six prime ministers have led nowhere. But with this administration, it is evidently incumbent upon Israel to make clear again that it is part of the solution, not part of the problem.
Netanyahu’s first order of business must be to ensure that the kind of bureaucratic dysfunctionality displayed over building at Ramat Shlomo does not repeat itself. More complicated is the US’s insistence on meeting Palestinian demands for a complete building moratorium in east Jerusalem. Here, quiet diplomacy is required to reconcile Washington’s pressure – its unfortunate premature focus on one of the most incendiary issues of dispute – with Israel’s refusal to undermine its determined assertion of sovereignty in its own capital.
The prime minister can help rebuild his credibility in Washington, and demonstrate his stated commitment to a two-state solution, however, by finally tackling the issue of illegal outposts, many of which lack the backing of the mainstream settler leadership since they waste valuable resources and energies that could be put to better use in existing settlement blocs.
Israel should also reconfirm its readiness to discuss all final-status issues at the negotiating table, while making plain that the “proximity talks” to which the Obama administration has resorted, in the face of Palestinian intransigence, can be no substitute for direct negotiations.
The present coalition is capable of taking these steps, though Kadima should be welcome to join it. Back in November the security cabinet, in an 11-1 vote, approved the 10-month West Bank building moratorium in recognition, among other factors, of the wider need to maintain good relations with the US. It seems obvious from here that US pressure on Israel is distancing the Palestinians from substantive compromise, since they see no need to give ground when Washington is doing their bargaining for them. But the Obama administration thinks differently, and that requires a pragmatic Israeli approach.
WE LIVE in a world openly antagonistic to Israel – a world that largely accepts the risible Goldstone Report’s condemnation of Israel, that enables our enemies to obtain arrest warrants against traveling Israeli officials for alleged “war crimes,” that castigates and punishes Israel for allegedly terminating a Hamas arms smuggler and self-acknowledged murderer. In grappling with most of this international hostility and malevolence, the US is Israel’s sole dependable ally. It is therefore vital that Israel not allow itself to be misrepresented as an obstacle to peace, and that it enable the present US administration to discover on its own the nature of Palestinian rejectionism, as a first step toward reversing it.
Netanyahu’s is already doing more than previous governments to help
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad toward West Bank
stability and institution building – via cooperation with PA security
forces trained under US auspices, the easing of movement, and the
enabling of major infrastructure projects. But while Fayyad moves the
Palestinians slowly toward statehood, we have yet to see signs of a
more profound Palestinian shift – toward true recognition of the Jewish
That shift, so long overdue, is the key component of any
viable peace effort. And the sooner the US utilizes its unique capacity
to galvanize the necessary pressure, on the Palestinians and the wider
Arab world, the better.