Thursday, June 11, 2009
A Glimpse Into Netanyahu's Counter Peace Proposal
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been at loggerheads with President Obama over the way to get peace talks back on the table in the Middle East. Specifically, the president wants Israel to freeze settlements on disputed land on the West Bank. Netanyahu has also been opposed since taking office to the two-state solution promulgated by the United States.
He is scheduled to give a major speech outlining his counter proposal on Sunday. Israel's Haaretz newspaper is reporting today that the plan will embrace a two-state solution and will roughly follow the so-called road map outlined by the United States. But it will include certain demands of the Palestinians.
First, the Palestinians must recognize the state of Israel and accept its right to exist. One would think that this would not be a controversial demand. After all, the destination of the road map calls for the creation of a Palestinian state that Israel would recognize. But in the parlance of Middle East peace talks, this may be a more difficult challenge than might meet the eye. One of the entities controlling a portion of the territories - Hamas - still is officially bent on the destruction of the state of Israel.
Second, Netanyahu, Haaretz reports, will insist that the Palestinians demilitarize. From the Israeli point of view, this makes perfect sense. But not from the Palestinian viewpoint. They view the Israelis as the aggressors. And given the history of conflict between the two, will almost assuredly reject this suggestion. After all, it will be argued, if Israel has the right to defend itself, so too should a future Palestinian state.
Haaretz reports that the speech will not address the issue of the West Bank settlements. But the paper says Netanyahu is looking for ways to halt construction - if only temporarily - and will run the proposal past the White House before giving the speech.
Haaretz says none of this is cast in stone. The speech, the paper reports, is still being refined so some of what it is reporting today could be changed before Sunday.
Politically, this is a very smart move by Netanyahu. He can't be seen by his constituents to be capitulating to Obama's dictates. On the other hand, he can't risk digging his heels in and appear to totally object to a path toward peace. Israel depends on support of the United States for its very survival. He can only go so far in declaring his independence from the USA.
But the outline that's being reported may not go far enough to take the heat off the Jewish state. Most notably, Netanyahu's reportedly expected demand that the Palestinians demilitarize is a non-starter. He knows it. The Palestinians know it. The White House knows it. And the world knows it. It may play well in Israel. But not to the rest of the world.
One could argue that demilitarizing a Palestinian state only puts Israel at greater risk. The organizations, like Hamas, who have been firing rockets into Israel and sending bombers across the border won't disarm if a Palestinian nation is established. And a Palestinian government would be be responsible for stopping terrorist activities. It can't very well do that if it's disarmed.
Still, it's heartening to know that Netanyahu is willing to at least embrace the concept of a two-state solution. But, as Obama's predecessors know and have probably told him, the damnation of implementation is always in the details. If Israel insists the Palestinians disarm, and Hamas remains bent on Israel's destruction, this probably will be all for naught.