“The truth,” Benjamin Netanyahu told those assembled at the United Nations, “is that Israel wants peace. The truth is that I want peace”. Across a number of high-profile speeches, beginning with the June 2009 address at Bar-Ilan University, and more recently his appearance before Congress in May, Netanyahu has put forth his vision for an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (as even as his government’s inertia has made peace dip further below the horizon).
Out of these texts, including his UN address, a Netanyahu Plan for peace can be constructed. Just as Barak and Olmert proposed before him, he envisages something akin to a two-state solution with frontiers based on a revision of the Green Line. But Bibi’s peace – if you can label it so – is perhaps the most trenchant and regressive proposal to have been articulated since the signing of the Oslo Accords.
Bibi’s peace means first demanding that before the Palestinian state is established, Mahmoud Abbas must recognise Israel as a “Jewish state”. This represents a shifting of the goalposts and a roadblock to a resolution. Previously, it had always been required of the Palestinians that they accept Israel’s right to exist. This was achieved in 1993, when as an addendum to Oslo, 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”.
More importantly, Netanyahu’s keenness to define Israel in any agreement as a Jewish state, as he understands it, would have a considerable impact on minority rights, particularly given that he has stressed repeatedly that the foundation of Palestine would be the total solution to the issue of refugees. His coalition partners, particularly Yisrael Beiteinu, believe it is inconsistent to have “a Jewish state with a minority group comprising over 20pc of the general population”.
Bibi’s peace means not retreating to the “indefensible” 1967 borders. “Without Judea and Samaria, Israel is all of 9 miles wide”; in perspective he explained this as being equivalent to “the distance between Battery Park and Columbia University”, or as he told President Obama “half the distance of the Washington Beltway”. The Green Line was a boundary which enticed war, and left Israeli land exposed to attacks on its vital economic assets and its infrastructure, namely Ben-Gurion International Airport.
Yet alterations to the border would not only be based on security concerns, but on “certain changes that have taken place on the ground over the last 44 years”, namely the influx of Israeli settlers unto the hills of Judea and Samaria. Netanyahu would push to incorporate the major settlement blocs along the Seam Zone into Israel proper. In return, Palestine would be afforded land in the Judean Desert, or if Lieberman is to be believed, the area between Jenin and Nazareth where there exists a dense population of Arab-Israelis.
These two concerns – safety and demography – are fundamentally incompatible. Messy adjustments to the border like those Netanyahu seeks would make the country if anything less secure and more vulnerable. In order to include Ariel, for example, a talon would in effect extend into the West Bank that would at its narrowest be around 2 miles wide. Worse still around Bethlehem, the Olmert Plan called for a snaking stretch of land the width of a connecting road, to link Gilo to the Gush Etzion bloc.
Bibi’s peace means that Jerusalem would become the united capital of Israel. Echoing Menachem Begin, Netanyahu told Congress in May, “Jerusalem must never again be divided”, whilst adding 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 the Netanyahu Plan would surely regress back to the early stages of the Clinton Parameters – ones Arafat could not accept – that offered the Palestinians ‘custodianship’ or a similar sort of loose self-governance over the Arab areas of the city.
Bibi’s peace means a demilitarised Palestinian state, with as he stated categorically in the Bar-Ilan speech, “no army and no control of air space”. And, in order to protect exposed sites like Netanya or Tel Aviv airport, Netanyahu would like to “maintain a long-term Israeli military presence in critical strategic areas in the West Bank”, one he slightly mendaciously compared to the existence of American forces in Europe and Asia, and British air force bases in Cyprus. Under his plan, the IDF would be stationed along the Jordan River, controlling entry into the Palestinian state in order to “stop the smuggling into the West Bank”.
During the now-infamous encounter between Netanyahu and Obama in May, where the latter received a condensed lesson in Jewish history from the former, the Israeli Prime Minister used the same refrain: “Israel wants peace; I want peace”. He told the UN that “peace must be anchored in security”; he informed Obama that peace must be ‘genuine’, it must ‘hold’, and it must ‘endure’.
Bibi’s peace would be none of these things. The Netanyahu Plan calls for a kind of Potemkin Palestinian statehood: a West Bank sliced and diced by settler roads and pockets of Israeli land, where access and movement are controlled by the IDF. A viable Palestinian state is essential to the vitality and prosperity of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. Bibi’s peace, in seeking to form a weakened Palestine, ultimately threatens Israel’s existential security, and undermines her status as a nation based on noble values.
Tzipi Livni, Israel’s latest dove
“I believe this is a grave mistake”. These are the words David Ben-Gurion entered into his diary on the morning of June 5, 1967, upon hearing the news of the commencement of the Six Day War. As Ami Gluska terms it, the spiritual leader of the State, who had devised and shaped the country’s national security policy and supported the war over Suez, had completed his turn from hawk to dove. Gluska describes this as testament “to his understanding of the limits of Israel’s strength and his predominant consideration for world opinion”.
Great Israeli leaders tend to be the ones who undergo such a metamorphosis, based on recognition that achieving a condition of peace and security can be sought outside the crucible of war. Yitzhak Rabin, hero of the Six Day War, would in 1993 shake hands with Yasser Arafat on the White House lawn and a year later extend the very same gesture to King Hussein after signing a lasting concord with Jordan. Even Ariel Sharon – an über-hawk whose record is stained with the blood of those who died at Qibya, Sabra and Shatila – pushed for the disengagement of the Gaza Strip in 2005 in the face of opposition from within his own party.
Tzipi Livni, leader of the main opposition party Kadima, has, it would appear, grappled with the very same transformation. Speaking at a memorial service for Rabin in 2009, Livni said: “Rabin - nicknamed Mr. Security by some - surprised many by choosing peace as his strategy. I think long and hard about Rabin,” she added, “to try and understand at what point a leader comprehends that unless he acts, the price for his people would be even greater than the one extolled by the act itself”.
Livni’s evolution begins in the cradle. For, her parents, Eitan and Sarah, were disciples of Ze’ev Jabotinsky, the leader of the Revisionist Zionist movement which aimed to create a Jewish state on both banks of the Jordan River (in other words, the Land of Israel and what is today the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan). Revisionists also sought to separate themselves from other Zionists by advocating a more militant stance on Jewish immigration to Palestine and armed resistance against the Arab population. Livni’s parents were, as such, also members of the Irgun, the paramilitary organisation responsible for the bombing of the King David Hotel on July 22, 1946.
Tzipi herself was a member of the Betar Revisionist youth movement, and following military service and a university education joined Mossad as part of the elite Bayonet unit, and undertook operations in Lebanon in 1982 as part of Operation Peace for Galilee. “To kill and assassinate,” Livni told Yediot Aharanot, “though it’s not strictly legal, if you do it for your country, it’s legitimate”.
Formally entering politics in 1996 seems to have kick-started the transformation from bird of prey to bird of peace. As a member of Likud – Israel’s largest Revisionist party – she aided the passage of Sharon’s disengagement of Gaza, calling the evacuation of the Gush Katif settlements “a historical move”. In response to criticism from Benjamin Netanyahu that the decision was mistaken, as Gaza has since become a haven for Hamas, Livni argues that Operation Cast Lead proves that “Israel’s army is strong enough to respond to any development, but this has nothing to do with resettling Gaza”.
The unilateral disengagement of Gaza, and Netanyahu’s quite vocal disapproval of it, was what caused Livni, Sharon and others to split from Likud to form Kadima. Today, as leader of a centrist, liberal party, Livni is Israel’s most prominent supporter of the two-state solution, based on the idea that allowing the creation of a Palestinian state will in turn preserve Israel’s status as a homeland for the Jews. “It is not an anti-Israeli policy,” she proclaimed in an address to AIPAC (the United States’ largest pro-Israel lobby) last month, “it is vital for Israel’s interests”.
At the heart of the philosophical transformation that binds Ben-Gurion, Rabin and Sharon together is the realisation that, in order to secure a Jewish state for future generations, Israel would have to relinquish lands gained in war; land which, in the case of the West Bank in particular, holds tremendous national and religious significance for the Jewish people. These leaders became aware that, within the Land of Israel, Jews were battling against demography, territory and security, and that, in order to secure a Jewish state, the borders of Israel could not extend beyond the 1967 lines.
Ben-Gurion, speaking of the Wars of Independence, stated the following during a Knesset debate: “We could have occupied [the West Bank]. And then what would happen? We would become one state. But that state would want to be democratic, there would be general elections - and we would be in the minority. Thus, when the question arose of the wholeness of the land without a Jewish state, or a Jewish state without the wholeness of the land, we chose a Jewish state without the wholeness of the land”.
In musing on the legacy of Yitzhak Rabin, Livni has become the latest in a line of leaders to acknowledge that, without action, Jews will become a minority in their own state. “The dispute,” she remarked on the anniversary of Rabin’s assassination, “is around the question of whether you can have it both ways – maintaining Israel as a Jewish state and keeping the entire Land of Israel”. The answer, she has concluded, is that you can’t.
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.