To understand the proper direction of Israeli efforts to present its case, we must understand the significance of Benjamin Netanyahu's speech (see Address by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Begin-Sadat Center.
The speech was a workmanlike and competent component that be the basis of a reasonable foreign policy. It served several very important purposes. The first was to return some of the "peace process" initiative to Israel, and to counter some of the extreme diplomatic isolation that Israel experienced following the installation of the Netanyahu government. The second was to pay the necessary debt to Barack Obama in his quest for Middle East peace. The third and most important was to provide a relatively clear policy statement and delineation of Israeli rights around three principles:
No 'return' of Palestinian refugees to Israel
No division of Jerusalem
Palestinians must recognize the right of the Jewish people to self determination.
These three conditions form the core of the Israeli case, and efforts at justifying and explaining the case for Israeli peace should focus on them, and not be distracted by gimmicks and side issues such as settlement freezes and outposts. In a hundred years, it will not matter if there was or was not a settlement freeze. But the decision on every one of the above issues will matter for as long as there is a Jewish state and a Jewish people. Palestinians have understood this longer than we have. It is no accident that they have objected strenuously to all three conditions, because they are the heart of peace for Israel. The aim of pro-Palestinian propaganda in the west is to divert attention from the focus of the conflict, defined in those issues, where the Israeli case is strong, to the issue of settlement freeze, and to force a split between the United States and Israel. Regrettably, some of the pro-Israel reaction in recent days has served the Palestinians very well.
The three conditions are pretty close both to Israeli consensus and to the bare minimum that Israel would need in order for the peace treaty to have any value. For Israel, peace means recognition of the right of the Jewish people to self determination; that is what the whole conflict has been about. It was a grave error not to include some such clause in treaties with Egypt and Jordan. Of course, if Israel had to accept hordes of 'returning' refugees (most of whom never lived in the places to which they want to 'return') there could be no Jewish state. The Arabs are well aware of this.
It is true that Israel existed for 19 years without the old city of Jerusalem, and even today, Jerusalem is not recognized as part of Israel by the United States, and certainly not by the Arabs. Israel can exist without Jerusalem, but it could not have peace. For Jerusalem is a symbol not only to Jews, but to the entire world. Whoever controls Jerusalem in history, has always, in the long run, controlled the land. Without Jerusalem, Israel will be, in the eyes of the Arab states and the world, something like the crusader states after the conquest of Salah al Din. The Palestinians could, and would, view the "peace" as a step in the famous staged destruction of Israel. Of course, even the Hamas are willing to "accept" a Palestinian state provided they can wrest Jerusalem from the Jews and flood Israel with refugees, and provided they do not have to recognize a Jewish state. But in reality, Fatah conditions are no different. Mahmoud Abbas stated the Palestinian position on Right of Return and on Jerusalem in an interview he gave in 2000, and different officials reiterated them many times since. The refusal to recognize a Jewish state was added as soon as the issue was first raised by Ehud Olmert.
None of these conditions are new or harsh. Israel's first governments resisted return of refugees. United Jerusalem has been the policy of the Israeli government since it was annexed. The right of the Jewish people to self determination is actually an international consensus. Not only was the Jewish state mentioned in UN General Assembly Resolution 181. It was asserted by no less a personage than Soviet Ambassador Andrei Gromyko in UN debates preceding the passage of the Palestine Partition Resolution:
The delegation of the USSR maintains that the decision to partition Palestine is in keeping with the high principles and aims of the United Nations. It is in keeping with the principle of the national self-determination of peoples....
The solution of the Palestine problem based on a partition of Palestine into two separate states will be of profound historical significance, because this decision will meet the legitimate demands of the Jewish people
The excuse of the Arab states and Palestinians is that recognition of a Jewish state would cause Israel to expel its Arab citizens. Any such recognition of course, can add the infamously misinterpreted, but still fair provision of the Balfour declaration, "nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities." Both the right of the Jewish people and the qualifying provision are international law, embodied in the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine Not one of these requirements is new, and they have all been stated before, but this is the first time they were put together in the context of a policy statement regarding the peace process.
Mr Netanyahu also took the opportunity to explain that the Israeli-Arab conflict did not begin in 1967 and therefore could not be due to settlements, and that Israel, despite the implications of Barack Obama's speech, was not founded because of the Holocaust. It is always important to use such speeches to remind the world of basic truths, which have been attacked and diluted incessantly by Arab world propaganda and anti-Zionist "narratives."
Mr. Netanyahu seems to have grasped the cardinal rule of Israeli foreign policy that has been in place since the foundation of the state: Israel can never allow itself to lose the support of the United States by seeming to be against peace. Therefore it was important that Netanyahu welcomed the Obama peace initiative and proposed a plan that meets at least some of the conditions set forth by Mr. Obama, by Secretary of State Clinton, and by special envoy George Mitchell.
Netanyahu refused to implement a settlement freeze, but he did offer a demilitarized Palestinian state. He said the magic words "Palestinian State." The demilitarized Palestinian state proposal was not essentially different from what has been offered, at least on the record, by previous Israeli governments. Israel's stand regarding the demilitarized state is recorded in the Clinton Bridging Proposals, citing the offer of Ehud Barak. It can hardly be branded a condition of "Likud extremists."
Netanyahu, the leader of the Likud party had offered, in principle, a Palestinian state. The Likud platform stated for many years:
The Government of Israel flatly rejects the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state west of the Jordan river.
As far as the major right wing party in Israel is concerned, the Greater Israel movement is dead. That is an analytic judgement, not a value statement. You can make of it what you will, but it was a significant psychological as a well as ideological concession, no matter how much Arabs and anti-Zionists try to belittle it. Critics who think it was not a concession, should consider how willing Arabs would be to say "We accept a Jewish State, but with limitations." Even a postage stamp sized Jewish State would not be accepted.
The speech could be historic in another sense. Until now, we have not heard declarations of principles because it was decided to negotiate bottom up, and to leave the difficult questions like Jerusalem, refugees and recognition of a Jewish state for last. It was hoped that the peace process would create "facts on the ground" that would facilitate solution of the major issues. Instead, the Palestinians used the bottom up process to gain successive concessions from Israel without yielding in any of their demands. They have no territory to offer, so concessions had to be almost entirely one sided. Only the recognition of "Israel" by the PLO, rendered meaningless by refusal to admit that Israel is a Jewish state, remains of all of the Palestinian "concessions." They did not give up violence or disband terror groups or cease incitement. Instead of consolidating sentiment for peace, they used the years of the "peace process" to villify and delegitimize Israel and to establish outrageous claims as acceptable facts in the Palestinian polity and in the world. "Right of Return" and PalestinianstatewithitscapitalinJerusalem were repeated over and over until even reasonable people were acclimatized to these notions, without realizing that there was never a Palestinian state in history, much less a state with its capital in Jerusalem, and that "Right" of Return is an absurd and destructive and malicious demand.
The Netanyahu speech, to the extent that it presented principles rather than quibbling over territory and other details, provides a chance to carry on negotiations in a top down fashion. There is no point in negotiating about where the border will run in Latroun or anywhere else if the Palestinians do not give up the demand for right of return, for both sides of the border will have Arab Palestinian states. Nor is there any point to negotiating water rights if the Palestinians and the Arab world are not ready to recognize that the Jewish state is here to stay and that the Jews have returned to Israel and to Jerusalem.
Netanyahu could have done better in several points in his speech. The first was that it was not necessary to reveal that he had already told Barack Obama that he would accept a Palestinian state. This, after all, was the piece de resistance of the speech. If he had already agreed to a state earlier, it could no longer be presented as a concession to Obama following his Cairo speech, and the whole drama of pressure ton Israel to support a two-state solution was made to look absurd and pointless. It was also not necessary or helpful to go into such detail about the rights of this state, which should be negotiated after Palestinians accept basic Israeli conditions. On the other hand, the Jewish right to Jerusalem, based on national aspirations and on the understanding of the historic relation between the Jewish people and Jerusalem, needs to be detailed to the world and empasized. It must be explained that the Jewish insistence on our rights in Jerusalem is a matter of national rights and not religious intolerance or Messianism. It is not sufficient to state the United Jerusalem slogan over and over again. Mr. Netanyahu proposed to give up large parts of Judea and Samaria (aka the West Bank) for peace, but not Jerusalem. Yet spent more time explaining the historical connection of the Jewish people to Judea and Samaria than he did in focusing on the historical connection of the Jewish people to Jerusalem! That is not logical, even if it was necessary to pay some respect to the ideology of his supporters and to underline the importance of the Israeli sacrifice.
Those who insist on arguing over millimeters of land concessions or other aspects of the speech, should try to understand what is happening and what Israeli policy is trying to accomplish and what constraints Israel faces in the real world. With the exception of the Begin Sadat peace initiative and the peace with Jordan, all "peace" initiatives between Arabs and Israel have played out in about the same way. The Arabs offer peace and the US or the US and Britain are enlisted to pressure Israel. The "peace offer" always includes some impossible condition that would mean the end of the Jewish state, such as removal of the Negev or giving part of it to Egypt or return of the refugees. Israel, if it is wise, makes a graceful and reasonable counter offer which the Arabs refuse. The outside power persists for a while with their peace delusion. If the Arab leaders seem to be sincere about the peace offer they are assassinated, and the whole affair is recorded in history books. This was the script for the Arab "peace" offer of 1949, conditioned on Israeli acceptance of 500,000 refugees. The US pressed Israel to be "flexible" - "friendly" President Truman wrote an angry letter - so Israel offered to settle 100,000 refugees. Haggling ensued. Meanwhile, Husni Za'im of Syria was deposed and killed, and not long after that, King Abdullah of Jordan joined him, Truman was not reelected, and Washington went on to other preoccupations.
There is not much reason to suppose that this "peace" initiative will be much different from all others. Given that the Hamas remain entrenched in Gaza and the Fatah remain entrenched in their refusal to meet the most minimum Israeli requirements for peace, there is no practical path forward. Obama has not provided a realistic way to overcome the obstacle of Hamas. Predictably, Hamas rejected Jimmy Carter's plea to recognize Israel.
These failed peace negotiations generally have two legacies. The first is diplomatic and moral leverage gained by establishing which party is for peace, and which is not. That is why it was so important to end the increasing isolation of Israel and make a positive response of some sort to the Obama initiative, and that is why the Arab peace initiative was so dangerous for Israel. It was never intended to bring peace, but to gain diplomatic leverage. The second consequence of such "peace" initiatives is that the sides use them to establish new "facts" in the public conscience. The Arab states used the 1949 "peace" initiatives to legitimize and popularize the so called "right of return" of Palestinian refugees, which has only a very shaky basis in international law, and conflicts in this case with the right of the Jewish people to self determination, which is overriding Jus Cogens. (See Palestinian Right of Return). More recently, the Palestinian Authority has used the "peace" negotiations to repeat, over and over, the concept of "Arab" East Jerusalem, to insist that no Jews ever lived there, to insist that Palestinians have a "right" to a statewithitscapitalinjerusalem, to continue to establish their "right" of return at every opportunity, as well as the "right" of resistance (terrorism) - which they explicitly abrogated in the Oslo Declaration of Principles.
US Media were initially mildly positive about the Netanyahu speech. Headlines said that that he offered a demilitarized state, rather than stating for example, "Netanyahu refuses settlement freeze." The sobriquets "right wing" and "ultranationalist" that previously were attached to the names of Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman in the supposedly "objective" mainstream media seem to have been dropped. The European Union views the Netanyahu speech as insufficient, since he did not declare a settlement freeze. The United States is being more subtle about the pressure, but is likewise displeased about that point. They were initially more anxious however, to show that their policy achieved a concession from Netanyahu.
However, the relative quiet soon ended, as media and activists focused on the distraction offered by the settlement freeze. For Israel, this is a disaster. We have no quarrel with the United States. The conflict is with the Palestinian Arabs and the Arab and Muslim states. The Palestinians and their supporters are happy to see a split between Israel and our main ally, over what is basically a gimmick. An Israeli-American conflict, as opposed to an Israeli Arab conflict, could only end one way. We must not go down that road. It may be silly for Israel to invest in settlements that we know will need to be removed one day, but since settlements were removed in Gaza, they can hardly be labeled permanent obstacles to peace. It is not likely that Israelis in Jerusalem or Kfar Etzion will stop giving birth because of the whims of Hillary Clinton or Mahmoud Abbas. On the other hand, a formula must quickly be found that is reasonable but satisfies the Americans.
The Palestinian reaction to the Netanyahu speech surprised many who did not understand what the speech was about (see here and here) perhaps do not understand what the conflict was about. The Palestinians did not focus on the settlement freeze so important to the Americans, or on the good or bad aspects of the state they were offered. Instead, they focused on the cardinal issues: Jerusalem and right of return and refusal to recognize the right of the Jewish people to self determination. They understood what these contitions mean. They are a requirement for real peace, not staged destruction of Israel. The file on Palestine would be closed. The Arabs and the world would accept that the Jewish people have returned to their land. A part of their land, to be shared with others, but nonetheless returned.
The three conditions must be the core of Israeli policy and diplomacy in the coming months. They spell out the requirement that the Arab world and the Palestinians must cross the political and psychological threshold where Israel moves from Dar al Islam irredenta, Islamic lands that are to be retrieved, to land that is deemed permanently lost to Arab and Muslim imperialism, like Al Andalus , known to you as Spain.
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Replies: 3 Comments
"Why is it that I agree with almost nothing you contend. "
That's your privilege. You have different ideas. Lots of people disagree with me, usually anti-Zionists. I suspect (and polls show) most Israelis agree with me and with Bibi and with most of the world on this issue.
The real questions are why you are so disagreeable about your disagreement, and why you think you can set yourself up to judge me and Bibi Netanyahu as "anti-Zionists." What qualifies you to decide that 80% of Israelis are "anti-Zionist"?? Have you been elected to run the WZO?
Ami Isseroff, Sunday, June 21st
Why is it that I agree with almost nothing you contend. Why is it you would concede Jewish sovereignty to anyone even America? That is exactly your bottom line in all of the verbiage you submitted here. Since you fear Being set adrift by America you would enter into any agreement so as to keep America? For what purpose based on past and present history is beyond my scope of reasonable understanding.
Once you establish principles they are carved in granite as far as the world is concerned. BB has Taken Israel to your side of the anti Jewish and anti Zionist side of of our Israeli defeatist politi. He is now a Political Lame duck as we will topple him as soon as possible. This I hope is the last time the Israel political right backs political charlatans like BB, Sharon, Olmert and Livni: I hope for the last time.
Norman I agree with you. Then I usually do.
, Saturday, June 20th
Israel would have been better off pursuing a policy of annexation. If Yesha is the cradle of the Jewish Nation, it makes no sense to share to give away a birthright. The Arabs will not warm up to Jewish niceness. They will respect Jewish strength. Had Netanyahu insisted on Jewish sovereignty over Yesha, he would taken the steam out of the world's pressure to demand Israel be shrunken down to an indefensible size. For without Hebron or Jerusalem, the Jewish case and the Zionist ethos are of no importance. The issue is not Jewish settlements. The issue is Jewish legitimacy - and that is the core argument with the Arabs often obscured but can never be forgotten. It is time to dispense with the notion that giving up the land will ever bring about peace.
, Saturday, June 20th
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