Think about it: Netanyahu and the two-state solution

Netanyahu has stated on several occasions that he supports it within the framework of a genuine peace agreement.

Hollande, Peres and Netanyahu 370 (photo credit: Reuters)
Hollande, Peres and Netanyahu 370
(photo credit: Reuters)
Last week I received an email from an acquaintance from abroad, who is actively engaged in Israeli hasbara (public diplomacy). He laid out the following dilemma: “Many journalists here are very confused about whether the current Israeli government officially supports a two-state solution with the Palestinians, or whether, despite Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s repeated declarations about favoring ‘two-states for two peoples,’ these do not express… the cabinet’s view, which is divided.”
Confusing? Certainly for someone who is not familiar with the Israeli government, or with the facts. In our parliamentary system of government, what the prime minister states is considered the government’s policy, even though there is no constitutional provision to that effect in any law or regulation. At the same time, unless a certain policy is formally approved by the government, it has very little long-term significance.
With regard to the two-state solution, Netanyahu has stated on several occasions that he supports it within the framework of a genuine peace agreement, which would involve the end of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and firm security arrangements for Israel. The last time he stated this was in the Knesset last Monday, in his welcoming speech to French President François Hollande.
However, what is the practical meaning of Netanyahu’s statement? Unfortunately, not very much. While our senior peace negotiator, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, can tell her Palestinian interlocutors that the prime minister is committed to the two-state solution, she and the Palestinians know that he dare not bring the issue to his cabinet – because it is not certain that he has a majority there. In fact, there are numerous ministers and deputy ministers who speak openly of their objection to the two-state solution, and at least publicly, Netanyahu has not admonished them.
The following example demonstrates the absurdity of the situation: Several hours before Netanyahu reiterated his support of the two-state solution in the Knesset last Monday, the Knesset dealt with four motion of no-confidence in the government, raised by the opposition parties, all against the background of the faltering political negotiations with the Palestinians, and the reported plans of the Construction and Housing Ministry to build another 24,000 housing units all over Judea and Samaria. Clearly, without serious negotiations with the Palestinians, and with massive construction in all parts of Judea and Samaria, including areas that must form part of a territorially viable Palestinian state if and when it is established, there is no two-state solution.
Likud MK Ofir Akunis, Deputy Minister in the PM's Office, was sent to reply to the opposition’s motions on behalf of the government, despite the fact that he openly opposes the two-state solution, supports Jewish settlement everywhere in Judea and Samaria, and objects to the mere use of the term “Palestinians.”
Akunis managed to avoid saying anything connected with the issues raised in the motions, choosing to speak of the murder of the soldier Eden Atias by a Palestinian terrorist, and of the Palestinian Authority’s treatment of Palestinian prisoners recently released by Israel – while accusing the Palestinians of being the main obstacle to peace, and the Left for the Jewish state’s growing international isolation.
Had the journalists mentioned at the opening of this article heard the proceedings, they would have been even more confused, and had they understood the background to the farce, they would have undoubtedly raised some very serious questions regarding Netanyahu’s credibility.
In fact, the only way Netanyahu could save his credibility abroad is to put his full weight behind the two-state solution (for example, by inviting the Labor Party, under its new leader Isaac Herzog, to replace the Bayit Yehudi in his government), even if this might mean political suicide – since there is certainly little support for the two-state solution in the Likud Central Committee. Even without the two-state solution, Netanyahu’s chances of being reelected to lead the Likud in the next general elections look slim.
But does Netanyahu have the desire or the guts to risk everything for a matter of principle, assuming that he believes in the principle? I myself doubt whether Netanyahu is truly committed to the two-state solution. In fact, one can deduce from the words the prime minister recently used to admonished Construction and Housing Minister Uri Ariel for his plan to construct another 24,000 housing units all over Judea and Samaria, that it is not the fact that such a plan would knock another nail into the coffin of the two-state solution that worries him, but the timing. That is, the exact moment he is doing his best to convince the international community – which objects to all new Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank – to accept Israel’s position regarding an agreement with Iran over its nuclear program.
It is also unknown whether he understands that time is running out on the existing status quo – where no progress is being made in the political negotiations with the Palestinians, and Israel continues to poo poo the world and the fourth Geneva Convention by expanding Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
Certainly Netanyahu realizes that should talks with the Palestinians break down due to Israel’s refusal to stop its settlement activities in Judea and Samaria, there will be nothing to stop the PA from approaching the international community with increased vigor, to recognize the establishment of a Palestinian State in the whole of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip – and the international community from responding positively. Furthermore, though at the moment individual terrorist attacks against Israelis are not viewed by the IDF as indications that a third intifada is in the making, if the negotiations break down there will be nothing to stop its outbreak, and international understanding for its causes. The possibility cannot be excluded that the international community will decide to apply sanctions on Israel, beyond the sanctions already applied against the Jewish settlements in the West Bank by the EU.
Incidentally, if anyone is hoping the Knesset might save the day, and approve an agreement with the Palestinians involving a two-state solution, should this agreement involve Israel’s relinquishing territories that are currently under its sovereignty (for example, if Israel agrees to hand over territories from within the Green Line to the Palestinian state, in exchange for the settlement blocs in the West Bank), those who oppose the two-state solution could invoke the law, passed three years ago, which stipulates that unless 80 percent of the MKs support the agreement, the issue must be put to a referendum. Nobody knows how such a referendum would end, especially since there could be all sorts of manipulations in the wording of the question put to the voters.
It should be noted that the government recently approved a draft “Basic Law: Referendum” that would make every relinquishment of territory by Israel subject to a referendum, irrespective of how the Knesset might vote on the issue. In the government deliberations, Netanyahu strongly supported the bill.
Could it be that he believes the voters are wiser than his cabinet and party, or is he simply preparing his alibi?
The writer is a retired Knesset employee.