Arab News (Editorial)
August 2, 2011 - 12:00am

It is reported that, as a result of pressure from Washington, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is now willing to negotiate the border that will separate Israel and the future Palestinian state. It is being said that this represents both a breakthrough and a climb down by him.

It is no such thing. Discussing the borders has never been an issue for Netanyahu. The problem has always been his idea of where those borders should be. He wants East Jerusalem and large chunks of the West Bank that contain Israeli settlements. In Israeli hands, these would ensure a fractured Palestinian state under Israeli domination and an Israel able to siphon off as much Palestinian water as it wants — and water is as much part of its agenda as military control.

Despite the hype from Washington and Tel Aviv, there is no sign that Netanyahu has changed his mind on any of this. He has not suddenly decided to reverse his very pointed rejection of US President Barack Obama's call last May for Israel to return to its 1967 borders — which itself was not new, despite (again) the hype from the Americans: Washington has always stuck to the principle that Israel has no right to any of the territory it captured in the 1967 war.

What Netanyahu is saying today shows he has not changed his views one iota. Indeed, the Israeli leader is quite categorical that no way should his statement be taken to imply a return to the 1967 line. He has said that the borders should “roughly” follow the 1967 line. There is a world of difference between this and saying the border should be the pre-1967 one. Between the two a massive amount of Palestinian homes and farms would be lost. As for the suggestion that the Palestinians might be given Israeli land in return, we can be sure that if there were any land being given, it would be barren desert with no water resources at all.

Netanyahu is again playing the conjuror. This is a slight of hand, a cheap trick, pretence that Israel is making both a concession and efforts for peace when there is no concession at all and no interest in peace. The objective is to put pressure on the Palestinians to accept the unacceptable ahead of the possible declaration of a Palestinian sovereign state by the UN at its annual General Assembly meeting next month. That declaration would be based on the 1967 borders: East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza would all be part of the state.

Netanyahu has worked ceaselessly to prevent a Palestinian state being announced and recognized. What he is trying to do now is put a boulder in the way of next month's UN vote. He hopes that a Palestinian refusal to surrender territory will make them appear belligerent and uncompromising — that, or a Palestinian acceptance to have a truncated state that would not in reality be sovereign at all.

Ultimately it is for the Palestinians and no one else to decide whether they go back to the 1967 borders or not. They are perfectly entitled to refuse any modifications and, if they do, the entire international community must accept that decision. What there must not be is any pressure from anyone, Washington included, put on them to accept changes.


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