Netanyahu’s illusionary or realistic take on Palestinian statehood

For three years the words “Palestinian state,” barely passed the lips of US officials, who used creative linguists gymnastics just to avoid those two words.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the government cabinet meeting, June 28, 2020 (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the government cabinet meeting, June 28, 2020
(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
Did Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu just resurrect the issue of Palestinian statehood?
This after months of carefully assuaging those on his Right by assuring them that Palestinian statehood was not under consideration now as Israel moves forward with US President Donald Trump’s peace plan.
Yet those who know English, and who happened to be awake at about 3 a.m. Israel time Monday, would have heard Netanyahu make his most clear link to date between Palestinian statehood and the Trump peace plan.
In a prerecorded English statement to the annual Christians United for Israel conference, Netanyahu said: “The president’s vision finally puts to rest the two-state illusion; it calls for a realistic two-state solution.”
One could almost hear his settler and right-wing opponents jumping up out of their beds and collectively shouting: “Gotcha!”
From the moment the Trump peace plan was unveiled in Washington, the most startling element for the right wing and the settlers has been the sudden inclusion of a two-state solution, precisely at the moment when they were certain that Trump and his administration had put the entire idea to bed.
For three years the words “Palestinian state” barely passed the lips of US officials, who used creative linguistic gymnastics just to avoid those two words.
In January, the Trump administration published a peace plan, which according to a count by Binyamin Regional Council head Israel Ganz, mentioned a Palestinian state 159 times.
Netanyahu, US officials and the Israeli supporters of the Trump initiative have done their best since then to focus on the plan’s unique sovereignty offer, but to no avail.
In each and every juncture, the plan’s opponents have heard only two words, “Palestinian state.”
In a video Ganz published against the plan, the settler leader noted that for a document purportedly about sovereignty, it barely speaks of it, mentioning the word only seven times.
That kind of linguist omission has played to the fears of the right wing and settler opponents of the plan, who have learned the hard way that peace processes often go down in flames but still leave an indestructible mark on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict when it comes to Palestinian statehood.
The 1993 and 1995 Oslo Accords never lead to a peace agreement. But they did create a Palestinian government, the Palestinian Authority, with its own security forces. The Oslo Accords also carved up the West Bank into three distinct sections of which 40% of the territory, now known as Areas A and B, were placed under the auspices of the PA. Effectively, it created a de facto Palestinian state without ever offering peace.
The unilateral 2005 Israeli civilian and military withdrawal from Gaza also never brought about the desired peace, but it did enable a Hamas takeover of the Strip, effectively splitting the Palestinian territories into two de facto states.
So when the Trump plans speaks of Israeli sovereignty over 30% of the West Bank within a process for a two-state solution, many on the Right see a map for Palestinian statehood over 70% of the West Bank.
It’s a map that in their minds could only lead to a terrorist state in their heartland.
Almost every day in the countdown to annexation, the Right has published videos and campaign ads with one clear message: “No” to a Palestinian state.
True, they worry the sovereignty plan has hidden settlement freezes and evacuations built into it, but their leading concern has most assuredly been fear of Palestinian statehood.
So much so that it became clear early on that Netanyahu could not possibly pass the Trump plan in its entirety, neither in the government nor in the Knesset.
Netanyahu has already clarified that should the matter come to a vote, he would only put forward a sovereignty plan. Likud politicians, such as coalition chairman Miki Zohar, have attempted to do damage control and sworn that Netanyahu would not support a Palestinian state.
Netanyahu himself has spoken, prior to his address Sunday night US time, mostly of his commitment to negotiations with the Palestinians on the basis of the Trump plan, but he has been quiet on statehood.
He has allowed his support for a Palestinian state to be presumed, or he has relied on his 2009 Bar-Ilan address, when he said he supported a demilitarized Palestinian state.
On Sunday night, however, Netanyahu pushed back at his opponents on the Right by challenging their understanding of Palestinian statehood. He carved out a position on the matter that hit at both the international opponents of the Trump plan and the right-wing ones.
Since publication of the Trump plan, the international community and much of the Israeli Left have opposed the “Deal of the Century” primarily on territorial grounds – its failure to set the borders of a two-state solution at the pre-1967 lines.
The international argument is that there is common agreement that these lines are the boundaries of the two-state solution and that anything that deviates from it is a departure from a common understanding of the conflict held by all parties, including Israel.
But with the exception of a brief period under former prime minister Ehud Olmert, no Israeli leader has ever agreed to that principle. If anything, they have been concerned that such a boundary would pose an existential threat.
The Oslo Accords did not hold Israel to that geographic boundary, and former US president George Bush promised Israel that inclusion of Israeli settlement blocs could be considered in any resolution to the two-state solution.
True the United Nations has long spoken of the pre-1967 lines as the boundaries of the conflict, but the Israeli Right has increasingly made the argument that such a UN designation does not take into account international agreements on Jewish rights to the West Bank territory, which predate the UN.
The sanctity of the pre-1967 lines, based on arbitrary 1949 armistice lines, has been so ensconced in the dialogue around the resolution to the conflict in the last two decades that scant attention has been paid to the complex multifaceted factors that would determine the success or failure of any agreement.
Less talked about are the other conditions for the success of a two-state solution, which is heavily dependent on the ability of a Palestinian state to be democratic and desire to live in peace with Israel.
From the Clinton administration to Obama’s, the importance of this aspect of Palestinian statehood has been spoken of, but none of the plans have emphasized it as heavily as Trump.
It is almost as if, according to the international community, all Israel has to do is to withdraw to the pre-1967 lines and peace would suddenly descend like some Biblical prophecy where the lion lies down with the sheep, while doves flutter above.
It is this “illusion” that Netanyahu referenced in his speech Sunday night. Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer outlined this difference between an illusionary two-state resolution and a realistic one in an opinion piece he published in The Washington Post earlier this month.
When the Trump plan speaks of a Palestinian state, it lays out conditions such as democracy, an end to incitement against Israel and a cessation of its diplomatic warfare against the Jewish state. It also calls for the Palestinian state to respect religious freedom, end corruption and ensure judicial independence, among other things.
Most significantly, it allows for Israel to maintain security control over all the territory in the West Bank and the Jordan Valley.
For some opponents on the Right, the choice is clear: a terrorist state or no Palestinian state. But for supporters of the Trump plan, including Netanyahu and a more-moderate Right, including some settler leaders, the equation is different.
They see the choice as one between a Western-style Palestinian state and the continuation of a Palestinian entity that financially supports those who engage in terrorist activities against Israel. It is an entity that they fear could at any time be taken over by more-radical forces.
For the Palestinians, the notion of anything less than the pre-1967 lines has been a nonstarter because they fear it is territorially unviable. For both the Palestinians and the international community, Netanyahu’s words are illusionary.
But the dialogue to date on Palestinian statehood has been an argument between the moderate and less-moderate Right both in Israel and in the United States.
It is in the debate between those two camps that Netanyahu has now tried to paint a vision of an illusionary and a realistic Palestinian statehood.