Friday, June 12, 2009

Netanyahu Already Supports a Two-State Solution--If it really brings peace

By Barry Rubin

One headline reads, "Netanyahu Yields on Palestinian Sovereignty," as if this were some concession forced out of him by President Barack Obama. In fact, when Netanyahu became prime minister he already supported the two-state solution idea...as long as it was really to be a solution, that is something capable of providing Israel with peace and security.

When he became prime minister in 1996 and accepted the agreement with the PLO and later when he agreed to the Hebron and Wye Plantation agreements, Netanyahu repeated that commitment. 

Why is this fact being obscured? Obviously, because Netanyahu has not repeated so far the exact words two-state solution but also for two other reasons. First, there is the false painting of him as a "right-winger," "hardliner," or anti-peace. Second, because while much time is lavished on what Palestinians demand, Western government officials, academics, and journalists largely ignore what Israel wants.

So let's call it this: a two-state solution that really works to bring peace and stability. Mindlessly repeating two-state solution is nonsense. The question is this: what kind of two-state solution, better than the status quo or likely to lead to more bloodshed and a strengthening of radical forces which would be against Western interests and jeopardize Israel's security?

Here is what Netanyahu said to Obama when they met in Washington DC:

"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.
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.

The fact is that Israel agreed on a two-state solution at its birth--the 1947 partition plan--and certainly has accepted this outcome since the 1993 agreement with the PLO. If the Palestinians ever truly accept a two-state solution instead of their current positions there really can be peace.

Don't hold your breath for that to happen.

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