Obama, Netanyahu and the peace process

Netanyahu should call for direct negotiations with Abbas based on Obama’s eight principles as endorsed in the G8 communiqué.

g8 obama sarkozy 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
g8 obama sarkozy 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The announcement by the Palestinian Authority that it has resolved to seek UN recognition of statehood – the alleged contretemps between US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu – and the reported demand by the UK, France and Germany for Obama to present a peace plan, organized around his principles, to the meeting of the Quartet on July 11 pose a challenge, but more of an opportunity, for Netanyahu.
Simply put, the prime minister should call for direct negotiations with PA President Mahmoud Abbas based on the Obama principles as set forth in his speeches of May 19 and 22 respectively, and as endorsed by the G8 communiqué.
Admittedly it might seem counterintuitive – if not questionable – to recommend that Netanyahu undertake this initiative. A majority of Israelis – and an increasing number of American Jews – regard Obama as naïve, if not insensitive, to the Israeli case and cause. Moreover, Israelis, as the polls demonstrate, largely supported Netanyahu in his public exchanges with Obama, and have become increasingly skeptical, if not distrustful, of Abbas, particularly regarding his reconciliation agreement with Hamas, his UN gambit and his unwillingness to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
But a careful reading of the Obama speeches reveals the following foundational principles, which actually align themselves with Netanyahu’s views and effectively frame the context and content of prospective negotiations.
First, “that the ultimate goal is two states for two peoples,” with Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people, and the state of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people. This foundational principle makes express reference to the importance of the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and homeland.
Second, it is clear, as Obama put it, “that the recent agreement between Fatah and Hamas poses an enormous obstacle to peace. No country can be expected to negotiate with a terrorist organization sworn to destroy it.”
Third, Obama reaffirmed the “unbreakable” bond between the US and Israel, the “ironclad” commitment to Israel’s security. In particular, he recognized that “every state has the right to self-defense, and Israel must be able to defend itself – by itself – against any threat,” thus requiring that the proposed Palestinian state be demilitarized, and conditioning Israeli withdrawal from any post-1967 territory on the demonstrated effectiveness of security arrangements.
Fourth, the president made it clear that the reference to the 1967 borders – in both his State Department and AIPAC speeches – did not indicate that Israel should return to the 1967 lines. On the contrary, after saying that the “1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps should be the basis of negotiation,” he added, “It means that the parties themselves, Israelis and Palestinians, will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967.”
This was the reason Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper felt it was important to reject the inclusion in the G8 communiqué of Obama’s alleged reference to the 1967 borders, because in fact, Obama had not made such a requirement; and more importantly, it was only one of a number of important principles and policies shared by the US, Israel, Canada and other members of the international community.
Fifth, Obama reaffirmed that “peace cannot be imposed on the parties to the conflict”; that “no vote at the United Nations will ever create an independent Palestinian state”; and that the US was opposed to the Palestinians bypassing negotiations with Israel and seeking a unilateral declaration of statehood in the pre-1967 lines at the UN. It should be noted that only the UN Security Council can confer such recognition – a General Assembly Resolution is only a recommendation – and the US has undertaken not to support such a resolution at either the General Assembly or the Security Council.
Sixth, Obama reaffirmed his steadfast opposition to any attempt to delegitimize the State of Israel, stating that “Israel’s existence must not be a subject for debate” and “efforts to chip away at Israel’s legitimacy will only be met by the unshakable opposition of the United States.”
Seventh, he stressed the dangers posed by a nuclear, genocide-inciting, terrorist-supporting and rights-violating Iran: “When I walked among the Hall of Names at Yad Vashem, I was reminded of the existential fear of Israelis when a modern dictator seeks nuclear weapons and threatens to wipe Israel off the map – the face of the earth,” and the importance of combating the terrorism of its proxies, like Hezbollah, “who exercise political assassination and seek to impose their will through rockets and car bombs.”
Finally, even on matters Obama has been criticized for relegating to the final status talks – Jerusalem and the Palestinian right of return – he did in fact express himself.
While stating that Jerusalem was a matter to be negotiated between the parties and to be left to final-status talks, Obama recognized the historical relationship between the Jewish people and the Old City of Jerusalem, and said, “When I touched my hand against the Western Wall and placed my prayer between its ancient stones, I thought of all the centuries that the children of Israel had longed to return to their ancient homeland.”
In addition, his reference to the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland of the Jewish people effectively precluded any Palestinian return to it.
Although an express reference to that effect would have been desirable, the clear inference is that the Palestinian refugee question must be solved in Palestine, just as the question of the Jewish refugees from Arab countries was resolved in Israel.
IF NETANYAHU calls for direct talks based on Obama’s principles, it will effectively say to Abbas, “We agree and have agreed to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state for the Palestinian people. Are you prepared to recognize a Jewish state for the Jewish people?” As Netanyahu said in his speech to Congress, Abbas should stand before his people and utter the six words that could change history: “I will accept a Jewish state.”
Netanyahu has already affirmed his acceptance of Palestinian statehood before the Israeli people, and that is what Abbas should now do in recognizing a Jewish State before the Palestinian people.

The writer is a Canadian member of Parliament and a former minister of justice and attorney-general.