Zionist diplomacy

Palestinian statehood? By all means, provided the terms are negotiated and agreed with Israel. Let Israel set out its needs.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Charles Dharapak)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu 311 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Charles Dharapak)
Pressure continues to build for Israel to facilitate a two state solution with the Palestinians. On Tuesday night, the indefatigable President Shimon Peres met with US President Barak Obama – a trip to the White House dedicated in good part to preparing the ground for a planned visit to the US next month by Binyamin Netanyahu, at which time the prime minister is expected, by some, to put forward new ideas for progress.
The Palestinians have been wildly successful at garnering international recognition of “Palestine” and are expected to appeal to the UN Security Council and/or the non-binding General Assembly in September to recognize such a state within the June 4, 1967 “borders.” This is a geographic area of tremendous historic importance to Jews that covers not only Judea, Samaria and Gaza, but also large swathes of Jerusalem, including the Western Wall, the remnant of the Temple, the holiest place on earth for the Jewish people. In the world of the UN, the half-million Israelis who live in these areas could wake up one September morning to find themselves not merely considered “occupiers,” but also, apparently, violators of Palestinian sovereignty.
Still more pressing is a plan that may be put forward by the Mideast Quartet (the US, the UN, Russia and the EU) when it meets next Friday to force on Israel an outline of a final status arrangement along the 1967 lines. Israel’s fear is that the nations of the world will seek to set terms on borders, security and Jerusalem with which Israel cannot live. These developments may not have immediate operative ramifications. At the very least, however, they contain the potential to further isolate and demonize the Jewish state, more than canceling out any minor gains made by Richard Goldstone’s “reconsideration” that Israel didn’t target Gaza’s civilians after all.
Palestinian leaders are being emboldened by their sense of progress in the diplomatic community. Insistently staying away from the negotiating table, and directing all their energies toward international efforts, they will undoubtedly reject outright any conceivable offer that Netanyahu could make, including proposals sufficiently far-reaching as to topple his coalition. Why agree to a compromise with Israel when, through international channels, the Palestinians would like to believe that sooner or later, they can bring about a complete withdrawal from all or almost all disputed territories, and the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of Israelis from their homes, making almost all of the West Bank Judenrein? The unrest sweeping the region, which underlines that even the seemingly most stable Arab governments (including a future Palestinian state) can suddenly be toppled, is hardly fostering Netanyahu’s desire for risk-taking to create any kind of Palestinian state. Nor is risk-taking enhanced by the nature of his relationship with Obama – not just the deficient personal chemistry, but specifics, such as the current administration’s refusal to recognize previous president George W. Bush’s implied support, in a 2004 exchange of letters with prime minister Ariel Sharon, for the retention of major settlement blocs.
AND YET, doing nothing is not advisable. No immediate existential danger is posed by a Mideast Quartet plan or a non-binding UNGA resolution. But the increased isolation of Israel and the escalation of boycott, divestment and sanctions are a concern. More importantly, so is the fact that the status quo does not help Israel guarantee its Jewish and democratic future.
In keeping with Zionist values, Netanyahu should be proactive. Historically Zionism broke with the passivity that characterized the Jewish people and determined their political fate. To this day, initiative, innovation and creativity differentiate our “start-up nation” from others. The same ideals should hold true for our diplomacy. A strong majority of Israelis understand that the creation of a Palestinian state, within parameters that guarantee the Jewish state’s physical and demographic security, is an Israeli interest. Netanyahu said precisely this in his Bar-Ilan University speech of June 2009. Now he should put some flesh on the outline he offered then. Palestinian statehood? By all means, provided the terms are negotiated and agreed with Israel. Let Israel set out its needs. Let the Palestinians come to terms with them. Not the other way around.
Our government needs to make clear Israel’s red lines, some of which were raised in Bush’s April 2004 letter – among them, that there will be no “right of return” for Palestinians; that major settlement blocs will stay put; that Israel will continue to have access to its important historical sites; that Israel’s security interests, particularly along the border with Jordan, must be respected; that final borders will be mutually agreed and will require more extensive and realistic adjustments than those the Palestinians have been prepared to accept thus far; and that the final agreement will mark the end of the conflict between Israel and the Arab world.
Netanyahu would do well to flesh out that vision of a two-state solution he presented at Bar-Ilan before others, less sympathetic to Israeli interests, do it for him. It is his Zionist legacy.