311_Netanyahu, Abbas groping Hillary Clinton.
(photo credit: Moshe Milner / GPO)
It’s only natural to enter the new year optimistically, with the hope that this
year will be better than the previous one. And, for the first time since taking
office a second time, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has finally given a sign
that perhaps he is ready to shed the Bibi of old and knuckle down to
negotiating, in all seriousness and honesty, a peace agreement with the
Palestinians. Even Amr Moussa, the Arab League secretary-general and persistent
critic of Israel, seems prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt.
his speech in the State Department last week, Netanyahu went further than ever
in his declarations, telling Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas: “I
see in you a partner for peace. Together, we can lead our people to a historic
future that can put an end to claims and to conflict.”
Now we all know,
and particularly in the case of slick salesmen like Netanyahu, that talk is
cheap, but this time his words carried a greater weight, for they were made
after the resumption of terror attacks and the murder of four Israelis near
In the past, whenever terror struck on the eve of
negotiations, Netanyahu was at the front of the mob demanding the
of talks while Jewish blood was being spilled.
This time around,
departing from his written text at the reopening of talks and sounding
like Yitzhak Rabin, the prime minister stressed “we will not allow
prevent us from continuing the peace process.”
It’s not hard to imagine
how the Bibi of the 1990s would have reacted to such a statement.
even more revealing were Netanyahu’s remarks to Israeli reporters after
conclusion of the Washington talks, in which he stressed the importance
demography as a motivating factor behind his desire to see a peace
Having earlier adopted the mantle of Rabin, Netanyahu suddenly
sounded like Ehud Olmert: “I have to ask myself what should be done
million-and-a-half Palestinians living in Judea and Samaria.
become Israeli citizens? That’s not my point of view.
Should we see them
as second-class citizens? I don’t think so. If the solution is that they
have a state, then the question is how to reach an agreement with this
ensure the security of Israel.”
ONCE THE ideological Rubicon of dividing
the Land of Israel has been crossed and the understanding reached that
country can only survive as a Jewish and democratic state if it gives up
of the West Bank, the issue then becomes one of practicalities: how to
security in agreement with the Palestinians.
Most of the spadework on
this has already been done for Netanyahu.
As Martin Indyk, a former US
ambassador to Israel, has noted, all the issues, ranging from
exchanges to security, from Jerusalem to the right of return, have
thoroughly discussed over the 17 years since the signing of the Oslo
The solutions to each of these issues is known; all that is needed is
leaders on both sides to have the courage to sign off on a deal.
Abbas is seen by many here as weak, such a view ignores the immense
has brought to Palestinian society. A critic, from the very first days
second intifada, of violence against Israel, Abbas has created a new way
for Palestinians in the West Bank as well as a stark reduction in
The economy, as Netanyahu himself is fond of reporting, is
booming, and law and order has returned to Palestinian cities. Even
West Bank city most identified with Hamas, is flooded with PA policemen,
ensuring a day-to-day normalcy that has been lacking for so long.
Operation Cast Lead, the West Bank was notable for the lack of anti-
protests, as opposed to the demonstrations taking place all over the
For all this, Abbas deserves more credit than he has received.
Netanyahu showed in the buildup to last week’s talks, as far as the
is concerned, the decision is his and his alone. There was no cabinet
on the eve of his visit to stake out a position or outline what or what
prime minister should say. Netanyahu even cancelled a meeting of the
much-vaunted septet that was scheduled to discuss his trip to the US,
there was no need for the forum to meet.
Just as Ehud Barak decided to
withdraw from Lebanon during his short term as prime minister without
consulting his cabinet colleagues, or Ariel Sharon decided on
the Gaza Strip without seeking the input of his ministers, Netanyahu has
power, should he wish, to enter history as the prime minister who ended
century-long conflict with the Palestinians.
The new year will tell –
very quickly given the need to finesse the settlement- freeze obstacle –
we are also seeing the birth of a new Bibi.The writer is a former editor
in chief of The Jerusalem Post.