Akiva Eldar
Haaretz (Opinion)
May 30, 2011 - 12:00am

Who said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hasn't changed? Who would have believed that the dear son of that combative family would utter indecent words like "Palestinian state" without spitting immediately after? Who would have dreamt that the prince of the right would even hint at the possibility that settlements would be evacuated? A veritable revolution. Instead of brandishing a thorn-filled club, Netanyahu is waving a fresh olive branch; he has learned that there is no better way to perpetuate the frozen peace process, expand settlements and increase his political longevity.

The prime minister is no longer the man Ehud Barak designated "Mr. No." We are now dealing with a new leader, a much more sophisticated and dangerous one. Meet "Bibi I'll Have It Both Ways."

This Netanyahu is in favor of a stable and prosperous Palestinian state and against a two-state solution on the basis of the 1967 borders with an agreed exchange of territory. He is concerned about the Jewish and democratic character of the State of Israel, and is also busy turning it into a binational state (or an apartheid state ), through his doomed and unprecedented demand that the Palestinians declare that Israel is a state for the Jewish people. He supports having Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas represent the population of Gaza in negotiations, and is opposed to the unity agreement between the Fatah government in the West Bank and the Hamas government in Gaza.

The "both ways" doctrine of the right is not new. Twenty years ago, U.S. President George H.W. Bush asked Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir to choose between expanding settlements and securing financial guarantees to help Israel take in new immigrants. The Likud leader, who was essentially dragged to the Madrid peace conference, sought to prove that it is possible to build settlements in the midst of peace talks as well as receive special assistance for the absorption of immigrants.

With the help of Jewish American political activists, Shamir rallied congressional support in his campaign against the administration. He believed that Israel's friends would bring the president to his knees. But instead of getting everything he wanted, Shamir ended up getting none of it, ending up without guarantees and out of government.

Even though he was in the midst of the struggle for his second term in office, Bush refused to abandon the fragile peace process and risk U.S. interests in the Middle East. The president defeated Congress, and Israeli voters defeated the right at the polls. When there is a leader in the White House who is willing to take political risks and makes it clear that there is a cost to trying to have it both ways, Israelis know to distinguish between the good and the bad.

But Obama enabled Netanyahu to return home from Washington without paying any political price for trying to have it both ways. Moreover, he allowed the prime minister to laugh all the way to Jerusalem over the statement that the 1967 borders, with agreed territorial exchange, should serve as the basis for negotiations. Netanyahu knows that statements that are not accompanied by political action, and which come with no bill for time lost, are worth about as much as the pledge in the 2003 road map to freeze all settlements and dismantle the outposts.

The PLO Central Committee has already decided to accept the parameters set out by Obama in his latest speeches as the basis for negotiations toward a permanent agreement, demonstrating its commitment that the reconciliation deal with Hamas does not alter its political positions. Abbas made it clear recently that negotiations on the basis of the 1967 lines and a three-month freeze in settlement construction would lead the Palestinians to abandon their effort to win support for an independent state at the United Nations in September. He also said: "In my calendar there is no October."

In other words, if serious negotiations about borders do not begin by September, in October the Palestinians will no longer agree to cooperate with Israel on either political or security matters. There will no longer be a semblance of a peace process even as Palestinian lands are stolen in broad daylight.

Obama said last week that a true friend must tell Israel the truth. A true friend has not fulfilled his obligation if all he did was describe the abyss to which Netanyahu is leading us. A true friend does everything in his power to prevent the mad rush to the abyss. The time has come to show that the emperor has no clothes, to strip the garments off the King of Having It Both Ways - before it is too late.


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