Monday, June 15, 2009

Netanyahu to Palestinians: No State

By Brian Doyle
CNI Staff Writer

In his speech at Bar-Ilan University yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a great show of calling for peace, but made clear he wanted nothing but a victor's peace. While accepting the premise of a Palestinian state for the first time, he made clear that it would be little more than a state in name only. This state would be demilitarized, which Netanyahu made clear means, "No army, no control of airspace." The Palestinians will not even be able to "make military treaties." It is doubtful whether such a state could be considered truly sovereign. It would certainly be illegitimate in the eyes of its people. Not even Weimar Germany was faced with such restrictions.

Further, Netanyahu rejected any right of return by Palestinian refugees, any sharing of Jerusalem, and was silent on settlements. These being the main issues of contention between the sides, Netanyahu essentially said Palestinian autonomy was the best they could hope for and showed no willingness to make meaningful concessions. He added fuel to the fire by requiring that the Palestinians and the rest of the Arab states recognize Israel as a "Jewish State."

Netanyahu called on Arab leaders to take the initiative in peace making, but the terms for a future Palestinian state, his demand that Arab states recognize Israel as a Jewish state, and his refusal to accept the return of any refugees made it clear he does not plan to ingratiate himself in Arab capitals. The response from the Arab world has been overwhelmingly negative. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stated, "No one will support this appeal in Egypt or elsewhere." Lebanese President Michel Suleiman called for Arab unity and said that the Arab states should stick to their guns on the refugee issue. A Palestinian Authority negotiator Saeb Erekat said Netanyahu's preconditions "left nothing for negotiation" and amounted to an Israeli rejection of the two-state solution. A spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas accused the Israeli Prime Minister of "sabotaging" the peace process.

It seems probable that Netanyahu is betting the negative Arab response will let him weasel out of negotiations. The Israeli right and their cheerleaders in the US will be able to accuse the Arab states of ignoring their overture, giving them cover for their obstructionist policies. Unfortunately, the Obama administration has welcomed Netanyahu's speech as a "step forward." In truth, it was a step back.