Aluf Benn
Haaretz (Opinion)
September 22, 2010 - 12:00am

Leaders are tested by their ability to spot opportunities and leverage them for their own benefit. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu now has such an opportunity. He must convene the cabinet on Sunday and inform it that the freeze on settlement construction will be extended by three months, during which he will conduct intensive negotiations with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on the future border between Israel and Palestine. From the cabinet meeting, Netanyahu must set out for his residence on Balfour Street, invite Abbas there and present him with a daring, unexpected and original map of the border.

What would Netanyahu achieve? First of all, he would surprise everyone. They expect him to be evasive and to surrender to pressure from the settlers and the right, who are demanding that settlement expansion resume. They think he is unwilling and unable to promote a peace treaty centered around withdrawal from the West Bank, and that all his speeches and promises were designed to buy time. But if he placed the "Bibi map" on the table, he would prove his seriousness, and the discussion would be about details rather than his credibility.

Second, Netanyahu would take the initiative and lead the agenda, instead of being dragged behind Abbas and U.S. President Barack Obama, who are portraying him as a rejectionist. Instead of conducting a defensive war from an inferior position, as he has done until now, Netanyahu would seize the strategic hilltop. That is what Egyptian president Anwar Sadat and prime minister Menachem Begin did when they drew up a separate peace agreement and neutralized U.S. president Jimmy Carter's comprehensive peace initiative. That is what Ariel Sharon did with his disengagement from Gaza, which removed all other ideas from the agenda.

Third, the Bibi map would force Abbas to decide quickly whether he is a partner for a deal or only a propagandist who wants to cling to power and embarrass Israel. A fourth Palestinian rejection of a partition offer - after the UN Partition Plan of November 29, 1947, Camp David and Annapolis - would give Netanyahu freedom of action and alleviate Israel's international isolation. But if Obama were smart enough to twist Abbas' arm and get him to say "yes," there would be a big bang in the Middle East: The moderate axis would be strengthened against the radical axis led by Iran, and the credit would go to Netanyahu.

Fourth, Abbas has proposed focusing on borders and security, and accepting his proposal would be very advantageous for Israel. The more generous Netanyahu is in drawing the border, the more he can receive on the security issue. Drawing the border would enable the sides to discuss the future instead of the past, promote the establishment of a Palestinian state and postpone discussion of the "narrative" demands - recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and a "right of return" for Palestinian refugees - so that they would end up neutralizing each other.

Fifth, Netanyahu doesn't even want to build in the settlements. He understands that it's folly, that it won't contribute a thing to Israel, that it will paint Israel as recalcitrant and extremist and weaken its position in the negotiations. His excuse for not extending the freeze - that it's an unfair precondition being posed by Abbas, while Netanyahu himself is ignoring the incitement against Israel in the PA - is weak and unconvincing. There is also incitement in Israeli government circles (Rabbi Ovadia Yosef ) and vocal opposition to the negotiations (Foreign Minister Avidgor Lieberman and Interior Minister Eli Yishai ). Expanding the settlements is meant to prevent the division of the land and to undermine the objectives that Netanyahu himself proclaims. Why should he work against himself by resuming construction? Sixth, no deal with the settlers would help Netanyahu - not construction "only in the settlement blocs," not an undeclared freeze with "exceptions," not "natural growth." They would fight him in any case, and would only paint him as a pathetic dishrag. Instead of crawling to them, he must stand up to them like a man and say: That's enough. He must challenge Yishai and Lieberman to decide whether they are in the government or against it. Seventh, drawing the border would make it clear once and for all which territories Israel will annex - and in those, it will be able to build freely - and which settlements will be frozen now and evacuated later. In that way, the oppressive cloud of the settlements would be lifted from Israeli-American relations and Netanyahu would be able to justly claim that he was more successful than his predecessors at getting the settlement blocs included in Israel and expanding the Green Line's narrow and threatening waist near Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Netanyahu must not wait. His political status is at an all-time high, and he must exploit the opportunity and embark on a peace initiative now. He has to take a risk and take sides. If he tries to please everyone, he will slide down the slippery slope until he is kicked out of office once again.


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