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Hussein Ibish

Did Netanyahu close the door on peace?

Was the Israeli PM posturing last Friday or is his outlook as bleak as it seems?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a speech during the inauguration of the Bar-Ilan University Faculty of Medicine in Tsfat, north of Israel, on October 30, 2011 (AFP Photo/Pool/Jack Guez)

As the latest round of violence and attacks between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza was raging, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seemingly ruled out any real prospect that he would ever support a two-state solution. As reported by David Horovitz of the Times of Israel, Netanyahu told a press conference last Friday: “I think the Israeli people understand now what I always say: that there cannot be a situation, under any agreement, in which we relinquish security control of the territory west of the River Jordan.”

In effect, this means "no" to any sovereign, viable Palestinian state. It seems to vindicate those who never believed Netanyahu was sincere in his June 2009 Bar-Ilan speech and subsequent declarations that he now supports peace based on a Palestinian state after years of opposing it. Such critics recall that in a private talk to Israelis in 2001, Netanyahu boasted that in his first term as prime minister he had "de facto put an end to the Oslo Accords.”

So, is Netanyahu, the consummate political survivor and deal-maker, posturing again? Are his comments from last week, which are so devastating to all Palestinians, Israelis and others committed to a viable Israeli-Palestinian peace, to be read in the light of the passions of the moment, of the conflict that contextualized them?

Or are they, as so many will both fear and with the deepest reluctance finally conclude, a sincere and solid commitment to the Israeli public that, under his watch, Israel will never accept a genuinely independent Palestinian state no matter what Netanyahu has said or hinted in the past?

The deep history of the man himself, his politics, and those of his country at the moment are not encouraging. They all militate towards the second, dark and depressing reading.

But Netanyahu did not offer any vision of the future beyond this statement that Israel would never relinquish security control in the West Bank. Indeed, does he have a vision at all? It seems not, unless it's simply the indefinite continuation of the status quo.

If that is what he has in mind, at least for the remainder of his own political career, then his statement can be understood in an instrumental sense. The conflict with Hamas has given the Islamist group momentum in Palestinian political life, at least in the present instant, despite the devastation being wrought on the long-suffering and innocent people of Gaza. In this light, Netanyahu's comments deal yet another body blow to the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), and indeed to all those committed to peace based on two states.

As such, the logic of those who argue that Netanyahu's approach is to damage, but not overthrow, Hamas in Gaza; marginalize and emasculate the PA in Ramallah; and bamboozle the United States with false pledges of interest in peace seems to be greatly vindicated by recent events and statements. Indeed, Amir Oren of Haaretz goes as far as to argue that Netanyahu now seeks three states for two peoples: Israel, and two disempowered Palestinian mini-states; one in Gaza and the other in Area A of the West Bank. That's certainly what is emerging now, and of the three, the PA – which seems to be the only one with a clear commitment to peace – is the most politically weakened, disempowered and vulnerable.

But what does Netanyahu's statement about security control imply? Only one of two things: either Israel will end up incorporating a vast number of new Palestinian citizens, to the point that it is no longer a Jewish state even in theory; or Israel will take the temporary "separate and unequal" arrangement it oversees in the occupied Palestinian territories and make it permanent. The Statute of Rome provides a clear definition of such a permanent arrangement, as opposed, for example, to a temporary occupation. It's called the "crime of apartheid."

So Netanyahu wants security control, which means ruling land, which means no Palestinian state. But neither he nor any other Israeli has been able to propose any formula other than two states that would end the conflict and allow Israel to remain either Jewish or democratic, let alone both. So, his answer is, in the long run, no answer at all.

It's possible that Netanyahu was either pandering to the public at a time of war, or was staking out a strong position that can be negotiated down. Everyone with any hope for a better future must fervently wish this to be the case, and the door should never be closed to that reading. Calculations and positions, after all, change as circumstances do.

 

But, unfortunately, it's also possible that last Friday Netanyahu really did openly announce that he cannot imagine a real peace agreement, at least for now. While neither he nor anyone else has any viable alternative, peace based on two states remains the only solution to further conflict such as currently on gruesome display in Gaza and beyond.

Netanyahu said in 2009 that he supported a Palestinian state. (AFP Photo/Pool/Jack Guez)

The deep history of [Netanyahu] himself, his politics, and those of his country at the moment are not encouraging."

  • Etna

    Beiruti, maybe you are not familiar with the Hamas charter. I don't believe they are ready and willing to accept a two state solution.

    July 18, 2014

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    ETNA: Maybe you are not familiar with all the agreements that Abbas and Fatah signed by trusting that Israel was, like them, ready and willing to accept a two-state solution. What did the Israelis do instead? Renege on every pledge they made, keep building settlements, reject East Jerusalem as a capital for the Palestinians, and categorically refuse any nominal solution to the Palestinian refugees who were displaced by the foreign Jewish migration and are now camped scattered all around Israel.

    July 18, 2014

  • Beiruti

    First there were the "security walls" built to keep the West Bank people away, now there is the "iron dome". So Israel is slowing becoming encapsulated like a big national ghetto. Netanyahu is actually destroying Israel as a Jewish State. Ironic that this is his demand but his every action and policy is working toward the day when Israel will not be a Jewish state. The end of the "two state solution" is not the end, it is the beginning of the One State Solution, from the sea to the river. In that polity, Jewish people make up only 52% of the population and in not too much more time, the demographics will flip so that non-Jews will be in the majority. If I were the Palestinians, long term, its better to wait and let the demographics work themselves out, that way, instead of having the dry lands of the West Bank and the prison of Gaza, they can have the whole thing. Their biggest Israeli ally in that is Netanyahu who will not take the 2 state solution now when the Palestinians are still willing to settle for it.

    July 17, 2014

  • Avveroes

    Israel will eventually annex the West Bank. Obviously, a two state solution is impossible. The Israelis offered a two state solution to the West Bankers 3 times in the last 14 years - rejected each time by the West Bankers, with no counter-offer ever proposed. The West Bank is now a dysfunctional kleptocracy dependent on hand-outs from the U.S. and various Arab donors. There are no political rights to speak of. This is a land that cannot effectively govern itself, or create prosperity for its citizens. Just ask the Arab Israelis if they want to go back and live in the West Bank. They do not. The writing is on the wall. Plus, demography favors the Jews over time, not the Arabs. Read Caroline Glick's new book. One state will come one day, and it will be a blessing for all.

    July 17, 2014

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    The Palestinians accepted the two-state solutions many times, but the Israelis - as you clearly admit - are bent on stealing the land from its rightful owners. So they speak with both sides of their mouth, pretending to want a Palestinian State when in fact they don't. They continue building settlements, they reject East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital, they continue to dehumanize the original inhabitants, the Palestinians, to force them to leave, and offered only to allow a dislocated semi-occupied Bantustan to the Palestinians. Clearly, it is the Israelis who have no intention of allowing a Palestinian State, and thus it makes the Palestinians' rejection of Israel all the more reasonable. In other words, the Israelis are doing everything they can to earn the rejection of their own existence in the midst of the Arab world, and they thus deserve what they are getting. If Hamas and Hezbollah are popular, it is because of Israel and its colonialist expansionist and ultra-violent de-arabization of historic Palestine. Coming from the victims of the Holocaust, such behavior is pathologically self-serving and understandable. But it does in no way secure a safe future. Again remember the Crusades: Military might is fine, but only for a time.

    July 17, 2014

  • manjarola

    Do you like takfires ??? Do you whant them make suicide bombers inside Lebanon? If Israel let Jordan Valey, them will go to west bank to fight Israel whit heavy guns.

    July 15, 2014

  • Pete H

    Israel keeping forces in the West Bank is entirely compatible with Palestinian sovereignty there. The UK, Spain, Italy, Germany, Japan, South Korea and many others are sovereign nations and all host large numbers of US troops (many more than Israel would need in the West Bank). The Palestinians are of course free to reject the presence of any Israeli troops on territory they claim. However, given the history of that land having been used multiple times for full-scale military invasions of Israel, plus suicide bombing campaigns on Israel's cities, it is for the Palestinians to make the case.

    July 15, 2014

  • manjarola

    Israel just trust IDF. UK, Spain, Italy, Germany, Japan, South Korea soldiers dont will spend one drop off blood for Israel if Isis or Al Nusra fight to guet jordan valey. Them will go out, them dont will fight and maybe be killed to save jews people from Israel. Them will run over like iraqui soldiers did when Isis atack them in Iraq. Just Israel soldiers will fight until the end to save Israel. No one more will do this.

    July 16, 2014

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    Are the ever expanding Jewish settlements also compatible with Palestinian sovereignty? Is the eviction of Palestinian homeowners from East Jerusalem and denying them building permits compatible with Palestinian sovereignty? One simply needs to place Netanyahu's comment within the totality and historical trajectory of the Israeli construct together to reach the conclusion that Ibish reaches: Israel, Left and Right, Secular and Religious, is Zionist. It is predicated on usurping land from existing owners to replace them with people with the dubious Jewish identity in order to re-create a fantasy from the biblical Stone Age of humanity. Israel loves the status quo. It prevaricates around the concept of peace and two states and any other well-wishing project, for the sole purpose of killing time and creating facts on the ground. The thinking behind Israeli policy is: Another 50 years, and there won't be any Palestine left to negotiate over. Armed with the immense guilt of the West over the Holocaust, Zionism is ravishing Palestine, olive tree by olive tree, stone wall by stone wall, village by village, and a guilty West is afraid of facing up to the crime unfolding before our eyes for the past 100 years. The sad thing is that neither time, nor the end, will be on Israel's side. Just like the Crusades who came 1,000 years ago, stayed 200 years,built settlements, treated the locals like animals under the guise of re-creating God's Kingdom on earth, then were evicted at the first opportunity, Zionist Israel will one day go down in history as a Jewish Crusade that attempted to re-create David's and Solomon's kingdoms in Palestine and, like the former Crusades, fail lamentably when the pendulum begins to swing in the other direction.

    July 16, 2014

  • Beiruti

    Hanibaal, you have spoken the truth well.

    July 17, 2014