The clarity imperative

Now is the time for Netanyahu to be proactive and formulate a peace plan that protects Israel’s cardinal interests.

By
March 14, 2011 22:17
4 minute read.
Itamar settlement in the West Bank

Itamar 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)

There is an understandable impulse to take action in the wake of the despicable massacre in Itamar – to respond in a way that in some small measure will mitigate the pain and erase the shame of helplessness. Launching an IDF-led manhunt for the murderers was the most immediate order of business.

Less coherent, however, was the government’s decision to approve the building of some 500 homes in Ma’aleh Adumim, Ariel, Gush Etzion and Modi’in Illit – breaking, and thus by implication confirming, the “silent freeze” that had prevailed since the formal moratorium on Jewish building in the West Bank expired last September.

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Channeling energies into constructive endeavors as opposed to violent revenge is a praiseworthy and eminently Jewish response to adversity. But building should not be a reaction to murder; rather, it should be planned to meet the needs of population growth in those areas of Judea and Samaria that Israel intends to retain under any possible accommodation with the Palestinians. As Ma’aleh Adumim Mayor Benny Kashriel reportedly put it, construction in settlement blocs need not take place under the cover of murdered Israelis.

In fact, the new 500-home decision underlines the damaging vagueness of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s diplomatic policy vis-à-vis the Palestinians.

Though in his June 2009 Bar-Ilan speech, Netanyahu set down for the first time a sketchy vision of a two-state solution, he has made no subsequent serious attempt to flesh it out. The resulting drift has left Mark Regev, Netanyahu’s spokesman, with a tough job.

Attempting to explain that there was no contradiction between Netanyahu’s stated desire to move forward with the diplomatic process and the announcement to build in the settlement blocs, Regev noted that “all of this [building] is taking place in the large settlements,” and that “in every peace plan that has been put on the table in the last 18 years, the large settlement blocs remain a part of Israel in the final status agreement.”

But Netanyahu himself has not presented a map delineating the borders of the future Palestinian state he has endorsed in principle, nor even clearly differentiated between what he sees as “consensus” blocs in which building should continue uninterrupted and settlements in areas that eventually will be ceded to that future state.

THERE ARE many understandable reasons for Netanyahu’s vagueness. With the Palestinian leadership split between Gaza and the West Bank, the PLO engaging in such rabid incitement against Israel that the lines are often blurred between it and Hamas, and PA leader Mahmoud Abbas formally holding to positions on territorial compromise and the Palestinian refugee issue that preclude viable terms, Israelis are far from consensually persuaded that they have a “partner.” Under such conditions, and with the current regional turmoil underlining the impermanence even of formerly stable allies, why would the prime minister go about alienating a large swath of his natural political constituency by announcing a willingness to dismantle settlements?

The “Palestine Papers” leaked by Al Jazeera in January provided additional indications that Israel’s best offer falls short of the Palestinians’ minimum demands. And even this “best offer,” issued by former prime minister Ehud Olmert, and those “minimum demands,” put forward by Abbas between December 2006 and September 2008, are no longer backed by the respective sides. Today Israel would offer less, and the Palestinians would demand more. Positions are polarizing; gaps are widening.

In the coming months, however, Netanyahu will have to reassess his sit-and-wait strategy. The Middle East Quartet – the US, the EU, Russia and the UN – has set September as a deadline for restarting peace talks, after which pressure will build to isolate Israel.

Although the US vetoed a UN Security Council Resolution last month calling settlements “illegal,” the Obama administration, a visibly uncomfortable lone voice in the 14-1 vote, made clear again that it regards the settlements as obstacles to peace. It is far from clear that the US will again make the unpopular move of backing Jerusalem in similar anti-Israel UN resolutions ahead.

Failing to come up with a plan of his own would likely precipitate one being forced on Netanyahu. And such a plan would undoubtedly be more in line with the interests of the Palestinians, who have made their demands for independence based on the pre-1967 lines, with minimal land swaps, crystal-clear all along.

Now is the time for Netanyahu to be proactive and formulate a peace plan that protects Israel’s cardinal interests.

Failing to do so invites unwanted international meddling.

Failing to do so leaves him approving new building projects in the territories as an inappropriate response to despicable acts of terrorism, rather than as part of a clear, coherent strategy to safeguard the sovereign Jewish nation.


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