The National (Editorial)
June 16, 2009 - 12:00am

Benjamin Netanyahu came within a hair’s breadth of endorsing the two-state solution and a sovereign Palestinian state. In a speech on Sunday night, he outlined what he called his “vision for peace”.

It came as the Israeli prime minister was under immense pressure from the United States to freeze settlements and accept a two-state solution for Israel-Palestine. Yet Mr Netanyahu refused to do the former and paid only lip service to the latter.

He offered Palestinian statehood, but denied it the fundamental aspects of sovereignty: the ability to control its own security and borders. His acceptance of a Palestinian state was significant, and it was praised as such by the US. But his failure to commit himself and his country fully to peace will damage rather than help efforts to broker peace in the region.

With his speech, Mr Netanyahu has erected both practical and rhetorical barriers to peace. On the practical side, while he has nominally accepted the road map to peace, the Israeli prime minister persists in making it nearly impossible for the Palestinians to fulfil their commitments under the plan. Israel’s refusal to relinquish security in the Palestinian Territories to the Palestinians means they lack the capacity to do so.

On the rhetorical side, Mr Netanyahu has attempted to frame the debate in such a way as to attempt to portray Israel as the willing partner for peace. According to Mr Netanyahu, Israel has always been ready to make peace, yet the reason it has not in more than 60 years is the recalcitrance of the Palestinians and Arabs. He called their refusal to acknowledge that Israel is “the national homeland of the Jewish people” the “root of the problem”.

Contrary to Mr Netanyahu, the greatest barrier to peace is not Arab and Palestinian recalcitrance, but rather Israeli intransigence. Yet the Arabs and Palestinians have done a poor job of selling this fact to the world. Mr Netanyahu claimed that every time peace becomes a possibility with the Palestinians, “they raise new demands”. Yet the Palestinian demands in the peace process (at least among those elements that participate) have remained relatively unchanged: a sovereign, contiguous Palestinian state. However, the inability of the Palestinians to cease their incessant infighting makes it appear otherwise. It is Israel that has sought to change the rules of the game and selectively interpret UN resolutions aimed at ending the conflict. And, perversely, Mr Netanyahu admitted as much: “We have to recognise international agreements, but also principles important to the state of Israel.” Yet for 60 years, Israel has appeared to the world as the victim. In short, it is better at selling its story. That must change, but it will not without a concerted effort from both the Arabs and the Palestinians.

Israel’s intransigence is rooted in one simple fact: it does not need peace. Its economy is largely self sufficient, and thanks to its military superiority, it faces no existential threats. Little wonder, then that it wants to retain such superiority in any peace deal. Thus far Israel has held on because the Arab world has failed to sell the truth. Changing this means active, not reactive, engagement. Mr Netanyahu has offered peace in return for acknowledgement of Israel’s legitimacy. The Arabs should call his bluff. The Arab Peace Initiative sets out a framework for such a recognition, but it is only the beginning. Offer to accept Israel, but not as a Jewish state unless they support a sovereign, empowered Palestine. Mr Netanyahu is trying once again to outmanoeuvre the West and the Arabs. The Arabs must not let him.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017