Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Bibi goes to Washington: What he said and what it means

Here follows a glance at Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech which he delivered in a joint session of Congress earlier today. Suffice to say, his statements garnered much appreciation from the attendees, and at times he appeared to own the room, even going so far as to lean jauntily on the podium as if he were at a roast for Joe Biden, brushing off a heckler with casual ease. His address offered a number of statements on peace and the Palestinian state, which are worth a closer look.

And you have to understand this: In Judea and Samaria, the Jewish people are not foreign occupiers. …This is the land of our forefathers, the land of Israel, to which Abraham brought the idea of one God, where David set out to confront Goliath, and where Isaiah saw a vision of eternal peace.

Netanyahu’s use of the term “Judea and Samaria” is telling: above all, this reference to the Hebraic terminology for the West Bank and his overtures to the ties between religion and land are to be read as reassurances to certain members of his coalition. Parties like Shas, and other religiously-orthodox parties who do not believe in the two-state solution, are essential to Netanyahu to keep him in power and his rightist coalition together.

I stood before my people — and I told you it wasn’t easy for me. I stood before my people, and I said, “I will accept a Palestinian state.” It’s time for President Abbas to stand before his people and say, “I will accept a Jewish state.”

One of two instances whereby Netanyahu defined the preconditions for fresh talks, it signifies a further shifting of the goalposts. Previously, it had always been required of the Palestinians to accept Israel’s right to exist. This was achieved in 1993, when as an addendum to the Oslo Accords, Yasser Arafat wrote to Yitzhak Rabin in a letter: “The PLO recognizes the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security”. Now, Netanyahu demands (again, as an act of appeasement) that the PA recognises the right to exist as a Jewish state. This had not been required prior to his premiership.

The vast majority of Israelis who live beyond the 1967 lines reside in neighbourhoods and suburbs of Jerusalem and greater Tel Aviv. Under any realistic peace agreement these areas, as well as other places of critical strategic and national importance, will be incorporated into the final borders of Israel.

This is a poorly-veiled code for the desire to see annexed into the State of Israel, once the borders are defined, the major Israeli settlements in the West Bank that lie close to the 1967 borders. For ‘suburbs of Jerusalem’, read Ma’ale Adumim in particular, and places like Har Homa and Gilo. ‘Greater Tel Aviv’ likely refers to Ariel and the towns in the northern-central area. In terms of ‘places of critical strategic importance’, this refers probably to the Seam Zone, the area in between the Green Line and the Security Barrier, which Israel asserts is key to the security of the State. This would involve the incorporation of the Gush Etzion settlement bloc near Bethlehem.

In any real peace agreement, in any peace agreement that ends the conflict, some settlements will end up beyond Israel’s borders.

The central West Bank is dotted with smaller settlements that would be given up in any peace agreement. This statement perhaps refers to those who reside around the major Palestinian localities, in particular Hebron where violence has flared up in the past and there is clear delineation between Jewish and Arab areas of the city. Any final agreement would have to deal with some security arrangement for these settlers.

Palestinians from around the world should have a right to immigrate, if they so choose, to a Palestinian state. And here’s what this means: It means that the Palestinian refugee problem will be resolved outside the borders of Israel.

The right of return was referenced repeatedly throughout the speech, making it clear that Palestinian would not have the ability to return to the old villages of the Mandate. This was the position of President Clinton set down in his Parameters, which allowed for Israel to pay restitution to some refugees and assist in finding residence for them in the new Palestinian state.

Jerusalem must never again be divided. Jerusalem must remain the united capital of Israel.

Previous sketches of agreements have allowed for a rump East Jerusalem in Palestinian control, but this has been the position of every Likud Prime Minister since Menachem Begin, who made this very same point in a speech to the Knesset during negotiations of the Camp David Accords. And, it is the position of the city’s mayor today.

Netanyahu later stated that: “I know this is a difficult issue for Palestinians, but I believe that with creativity and with goodwill, a solution can be found”. Thus, Netanyahu wills a united Jerusalem, but would be prepared to allow for limited Palestinian sovereignty or self-governance in predominately-Arab areas of the city they call Al-Quds.

It’s absolutely vital, that a Palestinian state be fully demilitarized. And it’s absolutely vital that Israel maintain a long-term military presence along the Jordan River.

The desire for a demilitarised state echoes the position President Obama took in his address on the matter last week. In terms of the Jordanian border, this has been something Netanyahu has sort for a long time, however it would if implemented severely undermine the sovereignty of any Palestinian state if the Israelis were to control access of all land borders. One suggested compromise has been for a neutral force (the UN, the EU) to patrol the Israel-Palestine-Jordan border.

I say to President Abbas, “Tear up your pact with Hamas, sit down and negotiate, make peace with the Jewish state. And if you do, I promise you this: Israel will not be the last country to welcome a Palestinian state as the new member of the United Nations. It will be the first to do so.”

The second precondition, and a further change in the Israeli position. Prior, Israel had always said that it could not negotiate with the PA, because it did not represent the will of the Palestinian people. Following the Fatah-Hamas reunion, Netanyahu is now saying we cannot speak with you, precisely because of this pact with Hamas. Abbas has sought to reassure Israel and the United States that the current negotiating team will remain and will not alter to involve Hamas. This may not be enough. Hamas would have to alter its charter radically first, as the PLO did in 1988 before negotiations can begin in earnest.