Right of Reply: Netanyahu doesn't have to say a word

Israelis already know that the chances for peace are slim and that the PM just has to wait out Obama.

binyamin netanyahu cabinet 248 88 (photo credit: AP)
binyamin netanyahu cabinet 248 88
(photo credit: AP)
Jeff Barak takes Netanyahu to task in his Jerusalem Post op-ed Netanyahu's loud silence (September 7) for not telling Israelis "where he's going" with regard to Judea and Samaria. He asks how Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu can claim to be serious about peace with the Palestinians without making clear to the Israeli public that settlements have to go. If Jeff Barak had his way, Netanyahu would echo Tzipi Livni pre-elections and Barack Obama, lecturing Israelis about the sacrifices they have to make for peace. I don't know how Netanyahu can claim to be serious about peace, even though he's repeated the terms of his June 14 speech at Bar Ilan University several times. Right now, few people can envision a peace agreement based on the terms Netanyahu outlined. Israel's Right and Left agree that his temporary settlement freeze will likely prove useless in advancing any kind of peace process. But Netanyahu would be a fool to accept Jeff Barak's advice. Netanyahu is now the most popular politician in the country. His popularity increased, at the opposition's expense, after he gave his Bar Ilan speech. His policy reflects the sentiments of a broad consensus of the Israeli public. Sixteen years after Oslo, the peace issue is dead as a doornail. Few Israelis now believe there are genuine prospects for peace, and they blame the Palestinians. WASHINGTON DOESN'T share this Israeli consensus, so shouting it from the rooftops would be unwise. But Netanyahu doesn't need to lecture his people about anything. He, his chief cabinet members from Ehud Barak to Bennie Begin, and the broad Israeli mainstream are all in tacit agreement. As long as Barack Obama is in the White House they're all willing to pay lip service to a Palestinian state, just so long as nobody seriously contemplates creating one. If Israelis didn't share this view, they would have elected Tzipi Livni in February. According to in-depth polls taken by the Israel Policy Center, the public's attitude to the peace process changed on the morrow of the 2nd Lebanon War. The public widely interpreted that war as showing that Arab radicals interpreted Israel's retreat from Lebanon and Gaza as evidence of a loss of nerve. Other events - Hamas' electoral victory in 2006, its coup in Gaza in 2007, and the missile attacks leading up to Operation Cast Lead - reinforced the public's skepticism. At the time of the much-hyped Annapolis Conference in 2007, another poll showed that a solid majority of Israelis rejected the policy of the Olmert government - a fact that only this newspaper had the integrity to publish at the time. Most Israelis think territorial compromise will lead to missiles in their backyard. Moderate Israeli leftists agree that Mahmoud Abbas's refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state or to yield an inch on the Right of Return means that, for now at least, there is nothing to talk about and nobody to discuss it with. Even Abbas's weak and corrupt regime will settle for nothing less than the elimination of Israel. Peace is simply not about to happen. As far as most Israelis are concerned, inflicting further damage on Israeli society of the kind incurred during disengagement would be pointless masochism. JEFF BARAK praises President Obama's posturing on peace and settlements. Alas for the president, Obama's initial positions on this and other foreign policy issues, such as Iran, aren't surviving in the real world very well. Support for the president's foreign policy is eroding within his own party. Obama's anti-settlement policy is likely to fade out quietly before too long. That would be a good thing. Israelis have a serious problem with the Palestinians, and the kind of policy advocated by Jeff Barak and Barack Obama is not going to solve it. The real obstacle to peace is Palestinian intransigence on Israel's very right to exist. That's the issue that's holding up progress, and nothing can happen until it's resolved. What's really needed is to apply pressure on the Palestinians to change. That's not going to happen until they feel that continued intransigence causes them irretrievable political harm and they become, in fact, eager to conclude a reasonable settlement. The last time this happened was in the final year of Yitzhak Shamir's government, when Ariel Sharon built 10,000 housing units in the West Bank. It's time everyone got used to the fact that there is no reasonable vision of the future without a large and growing Israeli presence in Judea and Samaria. The Palestinians, having seized the opportunity to miss every opportunity, will simply have to adjust. The writer heads the Israel Policy Center, whose mission includes reinforcing Israel's character as a Jewish, democratic state.