Netanyahu and George Mitchell 521.
(photo credit: marc israel sellem)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has demonstrated through his actions – or more
specifically his inactions – that he rejects the notion of land for peace. This
has been clearly illustrated through his reluctant acceptance of a two-state
solution, rife with caveats, and his refusal to halt settlement construction in
the West Bank.
Thus, it has become increasingly clear that the framework
of the peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan, based on “land for peace,” no
longer holds true. This represents a fundamental change in Israel’s peace
posturing in relation to the Syrians and especially the Palestinians. As such,
today the prospects for bilateral negotiations are not only remote, but create
an extremely dangerous situation.
In forming a government with Avigdor
Lieberman, Netanyahu has prioritized the security and demographic threat –not
dissimilar to previous governments, but with the exception of one critical
provision. Today, there are approximately 5.8 million Jews living in “historic
Palestine,” the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. There
are 5.3 million Palestinians living in the West Bank, Gaza and in Israel proper.
The birthrate of Israeli Jews is 1.7 children per family, while among the
Palestinians in the West Bank it is 2.1, and in Gaza, 3.3. The Palestinian
Authority Central Bureau of Statistics recently estimated that Palestinian Arabs
will constitute a majority in historic Palestine by as early as 2014. A recent
study by the Taub Center for Israeli Studies at New York University showed that
nearly 50% of students in Israel’s schools are either Arab or
Faced with this demographic dilemma, Ariel Sharon unilaterally
withdrew from the Gaza Strip, thereby shedding responsibility for the more than
1.5 million Palestinians living there while strengthening Israel’s Jewish
majority (if only by extending it for a number of years). Netanyahu’s apparent
plan – together with his partner, Lieberman – is also to unilaterally redraw the
borders. However, the key difference is that whereas Sharon withdrew to the 1967
border with Gaza, Netanyahu will pay no heed to the 1967 Green Line.
refusal to halt settlement construction beyond the three major settlement blocs
widely considered to be included in Israel as part of any agreement, indicates
that unlike his predecessors, who sought less than 10% of the West Bank as part
of a land swap agreement, he has his eyes on much more. This conduct is
consistent with Lieberman’s controversial proposal to “transfer” Israeli Arabs,
such as those living in the Triangle, to PA control – against their wishes – in
exchange for the areas of expanded Jewish settlement in the West
THE NETANYAHU government’s strategy is therefore twofold: first, to
enlarge the area under Israeli control in the West Bank while relinquishing
Palestinian majority areas; and second, to demand recognition of Israel as a
Jewish state as a precondition for any agreement. The two tactics combined offer
a distorted view of Netanyahu’s plan for “peace” in which he remains unconcerned
about the fate of an independent Palestinian state, so long as Israel maintains
its false sense of security and a solid Jewish majority. His refusal to stop
settlement growth and Lieberman’s success in advancing the loyalty oath
indicates that this strategy is already well in motion.
this bleak prospect, the Palestinians feel compelled to turn to the
international community. In doing so, they are seeking two critical
points: First, a clear statement that continued settlement activity in the West
Bank is a roadblock to a lasting peace agreement. Second, a two-state
solution based on the 1967 borders and UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and
338 is the only viable resolution to the conflict.
Both points enjoy
global consensus. The two points will be framed in the exact language the US has
used for many years, making it exceedingly difficult for the White House to
oppose them. After all, how can it reject a boilerplate statement of support for
a two-state solution? Or that further settlement construction is unproductive?
Support from the US would send a significant message, but even without it, the
support of the vast majority of the UN General Assembly would give the
Palestinians significant leverage. It is important to recall that Resolution
194, regularly cited as the international community’s perspective on the issue
of Palestinian refugees, is non-binding, but its influence remains central in
any future negotiations.
Even so, the PA’s campaign to win support will
be undercut so long as groups like Hamas continue to oppose it. As long as
rejectionist groups stand against the PA’s international effort, Israel will
have justification to maintain that it has no true partner for peace. It will
continue to use this excuse, waging a public campaign pointing blame at
Palestinian rejection of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state – not Israeli
intransigence – as the factor that keeps the peace process
THEREIN LIES the fundamental mistake that the Palestinians and
Arab states continue to make: not accepting that Israel indeed faces legitimate
security threats from extremist groups like Hamas and Hizbullah, which
absolutely must be mitigated if it is to ever accept an end to the conflict. The
1967 borders are now a source of pride for Palestinians and the Arab world, made
more so by the peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, and the historic Arab Peace
Initiative offering full normalization in exchange for the territories captured
in 1967, including an agreement on a two-state solution based on these
But without receiving an endorsement from Hamas and Hizbullah, and
even though Israel did not embrace the API, its excuse that it remains
threatened, that it has no partner, and that the offer is not comprehensive
cannot be dismissed. An endorsement of the API by Hamas and Hizbullah would
exponentially increase the impact of the PA’s efforts to pressure Israel to
remove its excuses.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu is making mistakes of his own.
First, his continued insistence that he is willing to negotiate face-to-face
with PA President Mahmoud Abbas until “white smoke” appears, as he recently told
reporters, is simply not credible. With his continuing support of settlements
and emphasis on new demands, no one believes he’s negotiating in good
Words alone will not bring Israel out of isolation; only actions
can accomplish this.
Second, Netanyahu must also understand that no
current or future Palestinian leadership – or that of the Arab world – would
ever accept anything less than a negotiated agreement based on the 1967 borders.
This is why Israel has been misguided in its continued ambivalence to the API.
With every passing day, it loses an opportunity to lock in the Arab world to a
promise of recognition, normalization and, above all, guaranteeing its national
security upon successful conclusion of peace talks.
A recent poll by the
International Peace Institute shows that Israelis remain aloof to the API, with
just 36% preferring it to the status quo. As long as Israel’s leadership
promotes the fallacy that Israel can maintain its security and Jewish majority
without an agreement based on the 1967 lines, it is effectively forfeiting the
opportunity to make peace.The writer is professor of international
relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches international
negotiation and Middle Eastern studies.