The music coming from the Prime Minister’s Office in recent weeks is anomalous.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has been making uncharacteristically
passionate statements about the diplomatic process – statements that go beyond
the expected chatter about Israel’s desire to engage the Palestinians and
negotiate a two-state solution.
One gets the sense that Netanyahu is
desperate for diplomatic movement; that he has bought into the left-wing
argument that the “status quo is unsustainable”; and that he is preparing to
launch a unilateral Israeli initiative to concede significant parts of Judea and
There is certainly a tremendous amount of international pressure
on Netanyahu to do so. US Secretary of State John Kerry’s current effort to
convene Israeli- Palestinian peace talks and bring about an agreement are
unlikely to bear fruit.
Even if Mahmoud Abbas agrees to come to the
table, in all likelihood the talks will falter or blow up quickly enough since
Abbas is prepared to concede nothing.
Abbas rejects any further interim
agreements with Israel. And even if Israel were to concede 99 percent of the
West Bank, Abbas cannot sign an “end-of-conflict and end-of-demands” affirmation
when Gaza is controlled by Hamas, nor will he recognize Israel as a Jewish
state. And Israel will not agree to any so-called “right of return” for
Palestinian refugees and their descendants. So the chances of a permanent-status
agreement are zilch.
Nevertheless, international demands for Israeli
action remain, and European threats of boycott and other isolating moves are
increasing. The world wants to see proof of Israeli “seriousness” in the form of
evacuation of settlements and other symbolic Israeli actions that denote
In this country, too, there is a groundswell of “elite”
(read: Leftist) opinion building in favor of unilateral Israeli moves in the
West Bank – to “signal” to the Palestinians and the world that Israeli is
“serious” about compromise; to “show” the world that Israel is not interested in
“forever being an occupying power”; and to “help create conditions for the
emergence of a stable two-state reality” sometime in the future.
Petruschka, co-founder of the Israeli organization Blue White Future, which is
backed by many people from the orbits of former prime ministers Ehud Barak and
Ehud Olmert, laid out the plan this week.
Israel should “firmly put
itself on an alternative path toward attaining its goal of two states,” he wrote
in Haaretz, even without a comprehensive agreement with the Palestinians, by
creating a “framework for two states.”
This “constructive unilateralism,”
as he calls it, has Netanyahu announcing, independent of any negotiations, that
Israel has no sovereignty claims over areas east of the security barrier. Israel
would then follow up this “constructive unilateral step in the international
arena” with “constructive unilateral steps in the domestic arena,” by enacting a
voluntary evacuation and compensation law for those settlers who “prefer” to
relocate to pre-’67 Israel following Israel’s renouncement of sovereignty in
these areas. Eventually, Israel would plan for the absorption of all settlers
currently residing east of the barrier, without coerced evacuation.
IDF, he says, would not withdraw from the territories until a real peace
agreement is reached with the Palestinians.
Petruschka calls this smart
bargaining, because it would, somehow and supposedly, “strengthen Israel’s
negotiation position by demonstrating Israel’s willingness to take its destiny
in its own hands”; it “would move Israel closer to its coveted prize of being a
truly Jewish and democratic state, regardless of whether there is a Palestinian
readiness to cooperate”; and it “will facilitate the resumption of negotiations
and enhance the prospects for closing the deal and reaching the long-desired
Every single one of these statements is
counter-intuitive and demonstratively false. Israel’s negotiating position would
be weakened, not strengthened, by such unilateral moves, and this plan would
lead us away from peace, not closer to it.
Unilateral Israeli action to
re-draw the map of settlement in Judea and Samaria will only encourage
The Palestinians will learn to sit tight and
remain intransigent, compromising on no issue, and simply wait for Israelis to
tear themselves completely down and out of the West Bank.
the quixotic “constructive unilateralism” platform is not the focus of this
column. My focus, and the more relevant question, is: Why would Netanyahu be
moving in this direction? The answer lies mainly in domestic politics. Netanyahu
has no other national agenda item to sustain his prime ministership.
needs a new message that will reposition him as a leader in the public mind, and
the Palestinian issue is all he’s got to work with.
The lead on economic
and social matters has been grabbed by Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid and Bayit
Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett. There’s little Netanyahu can do about the hot
situation in Syria or Iran. His job is to react wisely and cautiously to
developments on these fronts, not lead Israel into
Moreover, a plan for unilateral Israeli withdrawal of
sorts would blow the Lapid-Bennett alliance out of the water – something which
is Netanyahu’s highest political priority. The path to prying Brother Lapid away
from Brother Bennett runs through Ramallah.
Netanyahu is also furious
with the religious- Zionist community for catapulting, as he sees it,
arch-hardliners who are thorns in his side to the top of the Likud slate, and
then “abandoning” the Likud in the recent election in favor of Bayit Yehudi.
Lately, I sense a vindictive streak in Netanyahu’s attitude to the settlement
community, and this, I fear, also plays into contemplation of a move against
With Bennett forced out of government and Lapid imprisoned
inside it, Netanyahu could then move to bring the Labor and/or the Haredi
parties into his coalition – all of whom would readily back unilateral
withdrawals in the West Bank (in exchange for sufficient amounts of budget
allocations and patronage appointments).
In the process, Labor’s Shelly
Yacimovich would ward off serious challenges within her party to her leadership.
Haredi leaders would wreak their revenge on Bennett and the national-religious
public for pushing the ultra-Orthodox out of cabinet and threatening to draft
And Netanyahu would bask in the glow of praise of
Washington and Tel Aviv elites. Lately it seems that he cares more about his
global reputation than the opinions of the Likud rank and file.
strange to hear Netanyahu adopting the terminology of the Zionist Left, warning,
as he has done several times recently, about the danger of a binational state
and the perils of international isolation. This tells me that he is under much
more pressure than is evident to the public eye, and suggests to me that he is
planning a surprise unilateral move.
Netanyahu should resist the
temptation to buy fleeting international approval and purchase short-term
domestic political gain by sacrificing the country’s longterm strategic needs
and most fundamental diplomatic principles.
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