It's Up to Bibi
As the world awaits the forthcoming speech on Sunday by Israel's Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, it becomes clear that what he says will have a great effect on relations with the United States. As George Mitchell and the other representatives of the Obama administration continue to demand that Israel both recognize the two-state solution and agree in advance to curb expansion of existing settlements, as well as to dismantle others completely, any failure to do just that by Netanyahu will be made to appear that it is he and Israel that stand in the way of peace in the Middle East.
Some have speculated that it is the Obama administration's actual goal to bring down the Netanyahu government, and force its replacement by a new one headed by opposition leader Tzipi Livni, the head of Kadima. How Netanyahu decides to handle things will either defuse the growing conflict between Israel and the United States, or lead precisely to the collapse of his government. The latter could occur should he appear to be willing to capitulate and harm Israel's national security, and agree with the demands set forth by Mitchell and others.
Thus, the suggestions discussed by Ari Shavit in today's Haaretz, Israel's left-of-center daily newspapers, bares careful reading. Shavit wisely notes that Netanyahu cannot utter a simple "no." Were he to do this, "he would be playing into the hands of those who want Obama to deal with the settlements rather than with the [Iranian] centrifuges." But he cannot say "yes" either, Shavit writes. A yes means permission for the United States to begin a push for even more Israeli "concessions," including perhaps a demand that Israel retreat to its June 4, 1967 borders. Next an armed Palestinian state would be established on its borders, with the threat that would create to Israel's very existence.
Shavit also notes that "the American left, European left and Israeli left would push Israel into a hopeless, risky undertaking that would undermine its stability." (my emphasis) These wise words, remember, appear in a left-wing paper. Never underestimate the advice that will be given by would-be friends of Israel whose own programs guarantee only extreme danger for the Jewish state.
Thus, Shavit suggests that Netanyahu appear to go along with the proposed "road map" to peace, although we all know that the past attempts have ended completely in failure. Nevertheless, he argues that Netanyahu should offer his support to a two-state solution, but in a manner that makes it very clear that it means only "a demilitarized Palestine alongside a Jewish Israel." No more and no less. Israel cannot afford what happened in Gaza after Ariel Sharon's unilateral withdrawal, and Hamas made the area into an armed camp aimed against Israel.
But a word from Israel's PM that the nation will accept an actually demilitarized state, as Havit writes, "would transfer the onus [for the lack of peace] from Israel to the Palestinians." It would be an announcement to the world that Israel will agree to a responsible end to the conflict; one that will not mean new dangers for Israel. If the Palestinians reject this overture, it will be clear to the world what side is not committed to peace and the existence of a secure Israel.
Kadima, he argues, made a major error when they said they would recognize a Palestinian state without "qualifying their consent." True enough. But Havit ignores asking why this is even necessary? Doesn't the world realize that given Israel's experience with Palestinian promises, they could not accept a state that could immediately use its existence to try and bring an end to Israel--- as many of its leaders claim they actually want? Havit responds that in diplomacy, nothing can be taken for granted. It has to be spelled out in detail, leaving no loopholes.
Netanyahu is a shrewd, smart and experienced leader. He knows from past experience as Prime Minister that he has to tread a careful balance between defending Israel's interests and not doing anything to harm its alliance with the United States. What makes his position rather difficult this time is the growing demands from the Obama administration to put the blame for progress solely on Israel's shoulders, and to continually imply that they alone have to take the first step.
So those of us who want to preserve a strong and democratic Israel need to increase our pressure on the Obama administration, letting it know that it is time to tell Abbas and the Palestinian Authority that they too have to make it clear by words and deeds that they really will accept Israel's existence, side by side with their own state. Up to now, sadly, there is little evidence that Obama, Hillary Clinton and George Mitchell are doing this.