Analysis: Netanyahu stresses time

PM introduces new way of making most difficult steps toward peace.

Netanyahu New York 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Netanyahu New York 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, on his recent visit to the US, spoke publicly quite a bit.
He spoke before the cameras with US President Barack Obama in Washington, and in New York before the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, and at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. He gave interviews on CBS, ABC, CNN and Fox.
Yet, despite all the words, one would be hard pressed to point to any detailed information he gave to some of the most pressing questions, such as what he will do about extending the settlement freeze, what concrete steps he will take toward the Palestinians to move them into direct talks, and how he will ultimately deal with Iran.
It is not that he wasn’t asked these questions directly, it was just that he preferred to dance around them.
From all of what the prime minister said in the US, the public now knows that he wants direct talks with the Palestinians a great deal, believes relations with the US are on course, and hopes the international community does more to stop Iran.
Not exactly ground-breaking revelations. He painted broad strokes, but he did not fill in the details.
However, there is one element that jumps off the page during a careful reading of what Netanyahu said publicly in the US – and that is the element of time and how, as opposed to previous agreements signed with the Palestinians, Netanyahu is hinting that in any accord he may sign, time will be a major component.
Truth be told, this was not the first time that Netanyahu has alluded to time as part of an agreement. During Netanyahu’s visit to the US in March, when he addressed the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), he first gave an indication of how time – at least in his mind –could be used to defuse some prickly questions.
Since that speech was given just a couple weeks after the dust-up with Vice President Joe Biden over building in Jerusalem beyond the 1967 lines, everyone was focused on what he said about settlements and Jerusalem, and little attention was paid to the following: “Israel’s main security problem with Gaza is not its border with Gaza. It’s Gaza’s border with Egypt, under which nearly 1,000 tunnels have been dug to smuggle weapons. Experience has shown that only an Israeli presence on the ground can prevent weapons smuggling,” Netanyahu said.
“This is why a peace agreement with the Palestinians must include an Israeli presence on the eastern border of a future Palestinian state. If peace with the Palestinians proves its durability over time, we can review security arrangements.”
Netanyahu had said prior to that speech that any agreement would necessitate an Israeli presence on the eastern border of a future Palestinian state, but this was the first time he said that such an arrangement could be revisited after a certain period of time if the peace agreement actually held water.
The Palestinians, of course, are adamantly opposed to any Israeli presence along a future eastern frontier.
Netanyahu took this idea, and – during his recent visit to the US – expanded on it a bit.
In an interview broadcast Sunday on Fox, Netanyahu said that he thought an Israeli-Palestinian agreement could be reached by 2012. But, he added, “It may be implemented over time, because time is an important factor of getting the solution, both in terms of security arrangements and other things that would be difficult if they’re not allowed to take place over time.”
Netanyahu, in a speech last Thursday to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, elaborated on this theme.
“I think the most important thing is to, first, try to define a clear vision of peace, where people see the benefits of what it is they’re getting,” Netanyahu said.
“The second thing, I think, is to introduce a very important dimension for the implementation of this peace agreement, and that is the dimension of time,” he said. “Time is a crucial element both for security and for other critical elements of a solution. It has – it’s a great facilitator of change. And if you build in a time factor to any type of solution that we have, I think it would help enormously.
But the rest I’ll leave to the negotiations that I intend to have with [Palestinian Authority] President [Mahmoud] Abbas.”
Netanyahu’s thinking is that in dealing with some of the core issues, like security and even settlements, once you add a time element into the mix – saying, for instance, that certain things won’t happen for a decade, or even more – then certain land mines might be disarmed.
Time is a way, in this thought process, of finding a way to resolve certain problems.
For instance, using this approach in dealing with the loaded question of settlements, if there is a peace agreement it could conceivably be written that, in some 10 or 20 years, sovereignty over the areas would be transferred to the Palestinians.
Under this way of thinking, a way of thinking Netanyahu has alluded to now on more than one occasion, building a time element into any accord would open up different possibilities that would not exist were one to think that everything – as was done in the disengagement from Gaza – needed to be done immediately.
A type of accord that would mandate the almost immediate dismantling of settlements is almost unthinkable now with the current government, and considering the experience the country went through following the evacuation of Gaza.
What a careful listening of Netanyahu indicates, however, is an idea developing whereby an agreement would be constructed in such a way that people would begin to see the benefits of peace, and then – only later and if the agreement holds – would difficult steps be taken that would be extremely difficult to take now, such as removing an Israeli security presence from the Jordan River, or transferring sovereignty over settlements to the Palestinians.