Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been raked over the global coals, especially by petulant US President Barack Obama, for stating that Israel’s support for Palestinian statehood was theoretical at the moment; that no Israeli territorial withdrawals were in the cards for the foreseeable future – because of Palestinian intransigence and regional instability.
A two-state solution, Netanyahu explained, is a worthy, but alas, a distant goal.
The amazing thing about the controversy sparked by Netanyahu’s comments is that they really aren’t controversial at all. In fact, there is nothing unusual about Netanyahu’s position that the establishment of a Palestinian state could be, and preferably would be, the endgame of an incremental process; but that this process will have to advance with caution, and will be dependent on Palestinian compliance and on Israeli security needs in a turbulent and rapidly changing Mideast.
That has exactly been the position of Israeli governments for years, including the governments of prime ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert, and Olmert’s sidekick, Tzipi Livni. It’s been the position of Labor Party leader and Zionist Union chairman Isaac Herzog, too, throughout the recent election campaign.
Consider the following. Back in 2008, then US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice and prime minister Ehud Olmert advanced the concept of a “shelf agreement” as the basis for Israel’s negotiations with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas.
Under that conceptual framework, Israel was to negotiate an “agreement in principle” on an “endgame” solution with moderate Palestinians, but then place this agreement out of their reach – high up on a “shelf” where the Palestinians could see it, but not yet attain it. Only when the Palestinians would mature and fulfill all their “implementation” obligations under the accord would the trophy come down off the shelf.
The shelf agreement concept was predicated upon the realization that Palestinian leaders were completely unable to deliver on any of their obligations under the Bush administration’s “road map” – which had set out clear markers that the Palestinians would have to meet in order to obtain statehood.
It was further predicated upon the assumption that Palestinian moderates who want peace would be strengthened by a shelf agreement and be encouraged to play according to the rules of the game in order to attain their prize.
More recently, Obama’s Secretary of State, John Kerry, tried to an advance a similar concept – what he called a “framework agreement” – that would set out the parameters of an agreed-upon solution, to which the parties would work over time. This, too, failed, mainly because the Palestinians wanted statehood on steroids immediately, without delay, while refusing to consider the “endgame” concessions incumbent upon them (like an end-of-conflict pledge and recognizing Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state).
Instead, Abbas ran off to form a unity government with the radical Islamic, terrorist Hamas administration in Gaza; swore never to forgo the so-called “right” of Palestinian return; reverted to glorification of Palestinian terrorist acts in Jerusalem; and launched a series of unilateral moves against Israel in international forums, designed to isolate Israel and to defiantly snatch Palestinian statehood without any obligations to Israel or guarantees of peace at all.
In other words, Abbas is not acting to bring about a Palestinian state at peace with Israel, but a runaway Palestinian state on the rampage against Israel. This is, of course, a recipe for decades of continued conflict.
Runaway Palestinian statehood is exactly what Yitzhak Rabin, Barak, Olmert and Livni tried to prevent, as Netanyahu is doing today. Netanyahu is completely within the consensual tradition of all Israeli leaders in insisting that the peace process be toughed out the old-fashioned way: building confidence between the parties through measured, verifiable and concrete steps along a long-term road map toward stability.
Netanyahu is completely within the consensual tradition of all Israeli leaders in insisting on a performance-based peace process as the only sustainable model towards a durable final settlement. And he is completely within the consensual tradition of all Israeli leaders in insisting that only a crystal clear message from the Palestinians that the conflict is permanently and fully over might merit the ceding of territory by Israel.
Moreover, Netanyahu is correct that a realistic peace process must take into account the changed regional situation, so that any possible Israeli withdrawal would not lead to establishment of a second “Hamastan” in the West Bank, nor draw-in al-Qaida or Islamic State elements, nor open the door to the destabilization of Jordan via the West Bank.
It must also take into account the Iranian hegemonic drive across the region, including Iran’s takeover of vast swaths of Iraq, Syria and Lebanon; imperial conquests that are being aided and abetted by the Obama administration’s quite clear acquiescence in Iran’s status as a nuclear threshold state.
This means that the security envelope that surrounds Israel and the Palestinian areas must be militarily controlled by Israel, fully and forever. And it means that hackneyed notions of withdrawal to anything reminiscent of the 1967 lines should be set aside in favor of pragmatic proposals for shared sovereignty in the West Bank, or land swaps involving Egypt and Jordan.
In short, Herzog and Livni were no more likely to bring about establishment of a runaway Palestinian state over the next two years than Netanyahu is. If the international community rushes to recognize revanchist, triumphalist, and unfettered Palestinian statehood at the UN Security Council, over Israel’s objections – true peace will be pushed even further away.www.davidmweinberg.com