MYTHDr. Bard describes the concessions that Netanyahu showed a willingness to make the during his first term as Prime Minister, while at the same time describing why he feels Bibi cannot make similar concessions this time around:
“Netanyahu is not an advocate for peace.”
Before even taking office, Benjamin Netanyahu is being caricatured as a right-wing extremist uninterested in peace when, in fact, he is a proven peacemaker who carried out the last large-scale Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and negotiated with even his sworn enemy Yasser Arafat. It was no surprise that Netanyahu staked out tough positions during his election campaign, emphasizing his commitment to Israel’s security, but after being chosen to serve as prime minister he also pledged his government a “partner for peace.”247
When Netanyahu became prime minister the first time, he also was vilified by the media and Arab leaders; yet, he entered talks withArafat and agreed to withdraw Israeli troops from Hebron. Both leaders signed the Protocol Concerning the Redeployment in Hebron on January 17, 1997, turning over to Palestinian jurisdiction more than 80 percent of the city of Hebron with the promise of further redeployment from the West Bank in the coming weeks.248 Here was the “right-wing” prime minister agreeing to give up territory in a city with a long Jewish religious and political history in the hope of achieving peace.
This same opponent of peace signed the Wye River Memorandum on October 23, 1998, at the White House. Netanyahu agreed to turn over another 13 percent of the remaining territory under full Israeli control to the Palestinians in return for their pledge to outlaw and combat terrorist organizations, prohibit illegal weapons and prevent weapons smuggling, and prevent incitement of violence andterrorism. Netanyahu’s government also agreed to resume permanent status negotiations.249 Unfortunately, the Palestinians once again failed to fulfill their promise to end terror and sabotaged the plan for additional Israeli redeployments.
Today, the political climate is very different. The Palestinians are in disarray. The Palestinian Authority is split, with Hamas terrorists controlling Gaza and Fatah clinging to power in the West Bank. The nominal president of the PA is considered a reasonable person who simply is impotent to negotiate or implement an agreement. In addition, Israelis are in no mood to make territorial compromises after seeing how the complete evacuation of Gaza brought them more terror rather than peace. Until the Palestinians demonstrate they are committed to peace, few Israelis are prepared to give up territory the Palestinians may use to launch rockets at Tel Aviv,Jerusalem or Ben-Gurion Airport.
In this context, Netanyahu is advocating that the next steps in the peace process focus on improving the lives of the Palestinians. He believes that by strengthening the Palestinian economy and promoting rapid growth, the average Palestinian civilian will have a greater stake in coexistence.250 While critics seeking to discredit Netanyahu suggest he is trying to avoid political concessions, Netanyahu has made clear this is not the case. “The economic track is not a substitute for political negotiations, it’s a complement to it,” he explained. “If we have a strong Israeli-Palestinian economic relationship, that’s a strong foundation for peace.”251 He has also told international leaders that the Palestinians should have the rights to govern themselves as long as they do not threaten Israel252 and at the Knesset’s commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the signing of the Israel-Egypt peace treaty, Netanyahu reaffirmed this commitment. “The government I am about to form will do all in its power to reach peace with our neighbor. … Every one of our neighbors who will be ready for peace will find our hands outstretched before them.”253
247“Netanyahu ‘will be peace partner,’” BBC, (March 25, 2009).
248“Chronological Review of Events Related to the Question of Palestine,” United Nations, (January 31, 1997).
249“The Wye River Memorandum,” US Department of State, (October 23, 1998).
250Raphael Ahren, “Netanyahu: Economics, not politics, is the key to peace,” Haaretz, (November 21, 2008).
251Raphael Ahren, “Netanyahu promises peace talks,” Haaretz, (March 27, 2009).
252Herb Keinon, “Netanyahu refused to nix two state solution,” Jerusalem Post, (March 28, 2009).
253Shahar Ilan, “Netanyahu vows ‘every effort to reach viable peace,’” Haaretz, (March 30, 2009).
In an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, Netanyahu also explained why it would be difficult to finalize a peace deal with the Palestinian Arabs, though he gives a different reason for the problem:
Netanyahu, for his part, promises to move forward on negotiations with the Palestinians, but he made it clear in our conversation that he believes a comprehensive peace will be difficult to achieve if Iran continues to threaten Israel, and he cited Iran’s sponsorship of such Islamist groups as Hezbollah and Hamas as a stumbling block.
Bibi also pointed to his previous term as Prime Minister as proof that he is no hawk:
When I noted that many in Washington doubt his commitment to curtailing Jewish settlement on the West Bank, he said, in reference to his previous term as prime minister, from 1996 to 1999, “I can only point to what I did as prime minister in the first round. I certainly didn’t build new settlements.”
In a previous post, Bush and Bibi, I suggested that BDS is likely to live on--this time as Bibi Derangement Syndrome. The world that considers Netanyahu a hawk will not change their mind about Bibi until they see him take actions that convince them otherwise.
The question is whether such actions will cause the Israeli voters who voted for right wing parties to then consider Netanyahu a traitor to the cause.
Bibi's political machinations that brought him this far have only begun.
UPDATE: Of course, nothing Netanyahu has or will do can satisfy his critics--short of wholeheartedly endorsing a second Palestinian state. Powerline points out:
The Washington Post's editors joined that chorus today. It noted that Netanyahu "has never endorsed the creation of a Palestinian state." Others like to put it that Netanyahu is "skeptical" about such a state.
What's missing in the Post's editorial, and in other such pieces, is any argument as to why Netanyahu should not be skeptical about a Palestinian state, or why he should endorse the creation of one unconditionally. The most rational response to the question of whether a new state should be established in an existing state's suburbs is "what kind of state." If the new state is to be a sworn enemy under the political control or sway of a terrorist organization, the most rational response, indeed the only rational response, is "no thank you."
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