This morning the weekly Cabinet meeting was held, and Prime Minister Netanyahu began by making a statement. It included the following:
“We attained national consensus over the concept of ‘two states for two peoples,’ and the lines of agreement are first of all that the Palestinians must recognize the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish People and that also means that the problem of the refugees will be resolved outside of the State of Israel and that Israel needs and will receive defensible borders that also includes full demilitarization of the Palestinian territory. The development of the national consensus around these principles is the most important expression of the unity government.” (Translation by Aaron Lerner of IMRA)
On several levels this is less than constructive. It is jarring and disturbing to those of us who voted for a nationalist government — it feels like a betrayal. But we need to look more closely at what he is doing here, or thinks he is doing, and what the repercussions may be.
The Jerusalem Post ran this headline regarding Netanyahu’s statement:
“PM: Nat’l consensus on 2-state solution major accomplishment”
YNet: “Nat’l Agreement on 2 States”
Haaretz: “Netanyahu: We delivered consensus on two-state solution”
Arutz Sheva: “Netanyahu, First Time: ‘2-State Solution'”
The point here should be clear — and it is a major one: The provisos, the terms, easily get lost. What people hear (or read) is that the prime minister of Israel is saying that there is a consensus inside of Israel for a “two state solution,” and that he is proudly promoting this. From where I sit, that’s a bad scene.
Is there such an Israeli consensus? Polls vary, but we saw in February 2009 a poll indicating that 51% of Israelis opposed formation of a Palestinian state and in April that 49% disapproved of such a state, and only 44% approved.
However, if you ask Israelis if they would approve a Palestinian state if… If it were demilitarized. If it were required to first recognize Israel as a Jewish state. If it were agreed that we would not take refugees. Well then, people say, maybe it would be all right. And the numbers in favor go up. And this is what Netanyahu is touting: HE has found the formula that makes it possible.
Yet there is a distinct possibility that the Israeli public is being misled with regard to the actual feasibility of enacting the various provisos as spelled out by Netanyahu.
Refusing to sign off on a deal unless the PA recognizes us as a Jewish state? This is an important issue, at the heart of the conflict. A good proviso. The Arabs must accept the legitimacy of our presence here.
Similarly, the principle of resolving the refugee problem outside of Israel is critical.
But this business of a demilitarized state is deeply problematic.
I recommend an article — “Why a Palestinian state can never be demilitarized” — by Louis Rene Beres, a professor of international law.
“…arguments for demilitarization will be a nonstarter. International law would not necessarily expect Palestinian compliance with prestate agreements concerning armed force…authentic treaties can be binding only upon states, a nontreaty agreement could be of no real authority.
“But what if the government of a new state was willing to consider itself bound by the prestate, nontreaty agreement? Even in these circumstances, the new government would have ample pretext to identify various grounds for lawful treaty termination. It could withdraw from the ‘treaty’ because of what it regarded as a ‘material breach’ (a violation by Israel that had allegedly undermined the object or purpose of the agreement). Or it could point toward what international law calls a ‘fundamental change of circumstances.’ Should Palestine declare itself vulnerable to previously unforeseen dangers, perhaps even from the forces of other Arab armies, it could lawfully end its commitment to stay demilitarized.”
Then there is another, related issue to be considered: Netanyahu is seeking “international guarantees” on this, which means the international community would agree that we could invade the new Palestinian state if it abrogated its commitment to remain demilitarized. This is not a tenable proposition, and takes our defense out of our hands and involves third parties who would be loath to actually sign off on our going into a new Palestinian state.
When one reads the material regarding the readiness of the Israeli public to accept the formation of a Palestinian state, the issue of demilitarization is key. People are — for exceedingly valid reasons — worried about the establishment of a Hamastan at our eastern border.
But as it turns out, an element of the proposed deal that is among the most important to people may be the one that Netanyahu is least capable of actually delivering.
Yet, with all of this, there is another factor of no small significance: Netanyahu also calls for “defensible borders” (a fact that got lost in many English translations). This means our security would not depend solely upon demilitarization of the Palestinian state. It renders less problematic the issue of whether demilitarization could be achieved. Our security, in the scenario proposed by Netanyahu, would require that we retain large swaths of Judea and Samaria.
A nod to Aaron Lerner on this: http://www.imra.org.il/story.php3?id=44304.
Two things seem fairly apparent here. One is that Netanyahu is playing to the Obama administration, and perhaps to the Europeans, as well. This is his style, rather than being confrontational. I’ve written about it several times before, and now, in particular, the international pressure is intense.
And then, that he is counting on the PA to refuse to sign off on a deal. Olmert offered considerably more than he is prepared to offer, and Abbas turned it down. Is Abbas going to accept a deal that rejects our responsibility for refugees, and insists they recognize us as a Jewish state, and provides them with considerably less than everything beyond the Green Line? Perhaps when elephants fly. Especially is this the case as Abbas has become even more intransigent because of Obama’s stance. Thus Netanyahu is able to be the “good guy” in the eyes of the international community, while assuming there will be no price to pay.
One can only assume that hardliners in the government such as Begin and Yaalon are silent because they see this as the very likely scenario.
Many of us to the right would prefer a more forthright statement: This is our land. The Arabs have no right to a state here, and in any event a “two state solution” is not going to work.
But we’re not going to see this.
Binyamin Netanyahu is skating on thin ice. He’s counting on Arab refusal to compromise, and he’s setting what may be dangerous precedents.
But there is also another perspective to consider here: He may be setting genuine and realistic red lines for Israel. The world insists on a Palestinian state? OK. But here are our terms. This means going on the offensive diplomatically, rather than simply responding to what is demanded from the outside.
If there is no back-tracking on these red lines. If they genuinely are red lines, we would be OK. I am not complacent.
There are still discussions forthcoming with regard to the issue of settlements (Netanyahu will be meeting with Mitchell soon), and there remains unease about the degree to which he might cave on this. A freeze, even one that is ostensibly “temporary,” would be a disaster and would represent a sell-out with regard to protecting our legitimate Jewish rights and interests in Judea and Samaria.
There is a great deal more to explore, and I hope to be able to return a host of issues tomorrow. But I cannot close without mentioning a position being taken by the US government:
At a G8 summit to be held next week, the leaders of the industrialized nations will be discussing new financial sanctions against Iran. The predisposition of most leaders is to push such sanctions.
But the US, according to Haaretz, is working behind the scenes to prevent such sanctions from being enacted.
“The Obama administration, according to the diplomatic sources, has discarded the notion of direct talks with Iran. However, the United States is still interested in re-engaging Iran through the renewed discussion of its nuclear program through the five permanent United Nations Security Council members and Germany.
“American officials expressed concern that a decision to enact harsh steps against Iran during the G8 meeting could badly hurt the prospect of Tehran agreeing to renew negotiations with the permanent Security Council members.
“…New sanctions could include forbidding western oil companies from maintaining commercial ties with Iran.”
I confess, I read this article more than once, because it was hard for me to assimilate what is being said here. Tough economic sanctions, properly applied, could still bring Iran to its knees. And yet Obama would rather tread lightly here (play the good guy to Iran?) and put his hope in renewed negotiations with the permanent Security Council members?
I asked myself if Obama genuinely imagines that there is any prospect for getting Iran to stop nuclear development via negotiations with the Security Council. And then, I wondered if perhaps he is certifiable.
What does it take for the American populace to become genuinely terrified by the path down which their esteemed leader is taking them?