Saturday, May 23, 2009

Netanyahu's Peace Plan

By Barry Rubin

In his successful meeting with President Barack Obama, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presented a superb, workable peace plan backed by a wide Israeli consensus.

Those obsessed with whether Netanyahu would say the “two-state solution” mantra missed it.

In fact, though Netanyahu didn’t accept that framework precisely because he and his Labor party coalition partner are for peace.

If Netanyahu said “two-state solution” it would buy him moments of cheap praise. But then, experience shows, their attention would turn to just one theme only: getting Israel to make unilateral concessions and take dangerous risks.

In the conception of Netanyahu and Barak, the right kind of two-state solution is the only solution to the conflict. But how to ensure it does end the conflict rather than just make it bloodier and on worse terms for Israel?

Netanyahu made this clear in his joint press conference with Obama:

“Everybody in Israel, as in the United States, wants peace. The common threat we face are terrorist regimes and organizations that seek to undermine the peace and endanger both our peoples.”

The real question is how to get peace without strengthening radical forces; how to get a solution that doesn’t make things worse for Israelis and Palestinians? Netanyahu continued:

“We want to live in peace with them. We want them to govern themselves, absent a handful of powers that could endanger the state of Israel.”

Israel wants peace—it has more incentive for that than anyone. When Netanyahu says Israel wants the Palestinians to govern themselves, he isn’t talking about limited autonomy but in the context of a functioning peace agreement, which means a state. What are the “handful of powers?” Obviously, Hamas but it’s also a clear reference to influence and interference by Iran and Syria.

Why should Israel agree to any Palestinian state functioning as a base for destroying it?

He continues: “For this there has to be a clear goal…an end to conflict.” A definitive end of conflict agreement that the new framework ensures is key to any solution: two states not Round Two of the conflict. The Palestinian Authority has rejected such a commitment for very obvious reasons: it hasn’t been ready to accept permanent peace even if it gets a state.

Both sides, Netanyahu continued, must make compromises: “We’re ready to do our share. We hope the Palestinians will do their share, as well.” To reach peace requires the Palestinian side to meet its commitments—which it has done far more rarely than Israel—and make concessions. This may seem obvious but is usually forgotten in Western policy and media coverage. President Obama did make this point about Palestinian obligations as well, more specifically than many observers seem to realize.

Read this carefully. To reach a peace agreement::

"The Palestinians will have to recognize Israel as a Jewish state; will have to also enable Israel to have the means to defend itself. And if...Israel’s security conditions are met, and there’s recognition of Israel’s...permanent legitimacy, then I think we can envision an arrangement where Palestinians and Israelis live side by side in dignity, in security, and in peace.”

Here is Netanyahu’s view of the two-state solution. If the Palestinians meet Israeli conditions—including the reasonable demand that Palestinian refugees be resettled in Palestine, not Israel--there can be a two-state outcome. Here, Netanyahu deliberately used Obama’s phrase in the end to make clear how he is defining his goal.

This is critical: a two-state solution is not a gift given at the start of negotiations but a reward for the proper compromises ensuring peace succeeds.

Netanyahu points out another deep-seated Israeli concern: A bad “solution” can make things far worse. Israel doesn’t want to end up with a Palestine that functions merely as “another Gaza.”

Why should anyone be confident this won’t happen? Wishful thinking or faith that being in power makes people moderate—an argument proven incorrect about Yasir Arafat and his colleagues almost twenty years ago?

“If, however,” says Netanyahu, “the Palestinians recognize Israel as the Jewish state, if they…fight terror, if they educate their children for peace and to a better future, then I think we can come at a substantive solution that allows the two people to live side by side in security and peace and I add prosperity, because I’m a great believer in this.”

He’s right. What’s the point of a two-state solution which could easily:

--Make Palestine a radical state tied to Iran and Syria.

--Leave the Gaza Strip in Hamas’s hands which means, in effect, a three-state solution. Short of a U.S.-led multinational invasion force—rather unlikely—there’s no way Gaza can be included in a peace agreement with Israel. Talking about a two-state solution while the Palestinian Authority doesn’t even control Gaza is unconnected to reality.

--Creates a Palestine in which all schools, mosques, and media teach Palestinians that all Israel is theirs and they must conquer it, a Palestine full of incitement to violence inspiring hundreds to become terrorists, thousands to help them, and hundreds of thousands to support them. In some respects, this describes the Palestinian Authority today, despite its real efforts to limit cross-border attacks.

--Sets off a new cross-border war, with Palestine’s government and security forces either looking the other way or actively assisting terrorists.

--Creates a Palestine that invites in Iranian, Syrian, or other armies, or obtains missiles from them targeted at Israeli cities.

--Extends the conflict another generation by using the state as base for a “second stage” to finish off Israel.

Israel has good reason, based on the 1990s’ peace process experience, to believe its own risks and concessions won’t be reciprocated and that U.S. and European promises of support in that event won’t be kept.

And so Netanyahu and his country says: Peace? Certainly! But only if it’s real, lasting, and stable, making things better rather than worse: a real two-state, not big-mistake, solution

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