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FOCUS: NETANYAHU'S SPEECH
Getting 'stuck' with Netanyahu...
Netanyahu's terms for peace with Palestinians are unrealistic, says Israeli writer.
Last Modified: 16 Jun 2009 19:19 GMT

Prime minister Netanyahu has set a string of conditions for a Palestinian state [AFP]

Last March, my older brother and I travelled to the West Bank.

At some point we entered the settlement of Ariel. Overwhelmed by its size and maze-like streets, we managed to get lost in what can only be described as a little city.

As we tried to leave, we found ourselves going in circles. In a moment of slight frustration, my brother, who was driving, turned to me and said: "I think we're stuck here."

The degree to which my brother's observation is correct has become a major bone of contention between the US administration under president Barack Obama and Israel.

In depth


 
Profile: Binyamin Netanyahu
 Full text of Netanyahu's speech
 Analysis: Limiting a Palestinian state
 Opinion: Getting 'stuck' with Netanyahu
 Video: Settlers applaud Netanyahu's speech
 Q&A: Jewish settlements
 Netanyahu on peace
 Riz Khan: The battle over Israeli settlements
 Riz Khan: The future of US-Israeli relations
 Inside Story: Roads and obstacles to peace
 Inside Story: US and Israel poles apart

In Cairo, Obama challenged the regional powers to prove that they are part of the solution, not the problem.

For Israel, that meant a complete freeze on all settlement activity and an endorsement of the two-state principle. 

Obama's uncompromising position on the settlements and on peace left Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Compliance with Obama's demands meant losing political support.

On the other hand, siding with the pro-settlement block, meant significantly damaging relations with the US (something the Israeli public will not forgive).

In an attempt to forge a way out of this impasse, Netanyahu delivered a speech in which he inched towards Obama by endorsing a two-state solution.

"In my vision of peace," Netanyahu said, "there are two free peoples living side by side in this small land, with good neighbourly relations and mutual respect, each with its flag, anthem and government, with neither one threatening its neighbour's security and existence."

Formidable conditions

However, with a nod to his hawkish political bloc, Netanyahu's vision was not without formidable qualifications. The prime minister made it clear that any future Palestinian state will:

a) have to be demilitarised (i.e. no army or control over air space),
b) recognise Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish people,
c) relinquish aspiration to a shared capital in Jerusalem,
d) unequivocally drop the right of return of Palestinian refugees into Israel proper.     

On the question of settlement, Netanyahu declared that until a final agreement on territory is reached, Israel will not build new settlements.

He added, however, "There is a need to have people live normal lives and let mothers and fathers raise their children like everyone in the world."

The words "natural growth" are absent, yet the message remains.

"With his speech, Netanyahu attempted to proverbially dance at two weddings... His conditions for peace are unrealistic."

With his speech, Netanyahu attempted to proverbially dance at two weddings. But his act should fool no one.

His conditions for peace are unrealistic.

No moderate Palestinian will accept a peace agreement that excludes East Jerusalem as the capital of the future Palestinian state.

Likewise, no moderate Palestinian will accept the right of return to be unilaterally solved by Israel without some kind of partial repatriation, full compensation and a sincere acknowledgment of wrongdoing on the part of the government. 

Netanyahu also slammed the door on the possibility of including Hamas in the negotiation process.

'Path of Hamas'

"Palestinians must decide", he said, "between path of peace and path of Hamas. They must overcome Hamas. Israel will not sit down at conference table with terrorists who seek to destroy it."

It is not clear how Netanyahu envisions the Palestinians overcoming Hamas without an army (something Israel couldn't do with its own!).

Netanyahu said Palestinians must
recognise Israel as a Jewish state [AFP]
Netanyahu's position on Hamas makes Palestinian unity, a likely prerequisite to peace, impossible.

The prime minister's assertion that Israel will not sit across the table with Hamas contrasts sharply with Obama's claim that Hamas can play a meaningful role in fulfilling Palestinian aspiration so long as they put an end to violence, recognise past agreements and recognise Israel's right to exist.

On the question of demilitarisation, Palestinians will reasonably raise the objection that it is unfair to strip them of the right to self-defence when their neighbours are armed to the teeth. 

Currently there are 27 countries with no army – seven of which have been demilitarised.

At the very least, if the Palestinians do accept this condition, they need to be guaranteed security in an anarchic and volatile region.

Blaming Arabs

Finally, there is the issue of Netanyahu's condescending tone and one-dimensional analysis of history (another stark contrast with Obama).

According to Netanyahu, the root of the conflict, and the reasons why we keep fighting, is because the Arabs refuse to recognise the state of Israel as the national home of the Jewish people.

Apparently the conflict has nothing to do with forced dislocation, a brutal occupation and generations of humiliation.

"All anyone needs to know is that the Israelis are civilised peace-loving people, while Palestinians are not."

All anyone apparently needs to know is that the Israelis are civilised peace-loving people, while Palestinians are not. Should the Palestinians change their way, Netanyahu tells us, Israel will magnanimously give them a simulacrum of a state.  

Writing in Haaretz, Akiva Elder brilliantly summarised the hubris of Netanyahu speech: “The Palestinians can have a state, but only if those foreign invaders show us they know how to eat with a fork and knife. Actually, without a knife."

Netanyahu opened and ended his speech with the word "peace" (which he uttered 36 times); he also opened and ended his speech with a reference to [former Egyptian president] Anwar Sadat and [former Israeli prime minister] Menachem Begin’s historic peace treaty.

Yet Egypt's treaty with Israel was based on a land-for-peace formula (including dismantling settlements), and no conditional recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. 

Conveniently, this fact was absent from Netanyahu's history lessons on the peace process and the failure of withdrawals.

In the end Netanyahu is not Menachem Begin. Not even [former Israeli prime minister] Ariel Sharon.

In the Bush era, this speech would have been welcomed with open arms, but with the ascent of Obama, Netanyahu is proving himself to be part of the problem. 

It seems that we will have to wait for Ms Tzipi Livni to make a triumphant, you-see-I-told-you-so return for meaningful dialogue and negotiations to take place.

Until then, I concur with my brother’s observation: "I think we’re stuck here."

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

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