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Netanyahu Takes Up Obama's Gauntlet

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Seeking Response To U.S. President Barack Obama's Demands That Will Keep Coalition In Tact & Not Capitulate On Likud Principles

Cabinet Minister Moshe Yaalon: 'Any Attempt At Instant Peace Will End In Failure Because Of Current Palestinian Reality'

Defense Minister Ehud Barak: 'Crucial For Israel To Reach Understandings With U.S. & To Accept Two-State Solution on Palestinian Issue'

Bibi Netanyahu

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's response to President Barack Obama's speech in Cairo will not be long in coming. On June 14th, Netanyahu will lay out his foreign policy goals in a 'major address'. Coming against sharp differences between Jerusalem and Washington over the settlements question as well as the two-state solution, Netanyahu will have to steer a tricky course between preserving Israel's vital relations with the U.S. while not abandoning the principles of his Right-wing coalition government.

After the Netanyahu-Obama meeting in the White House and the President's Cairo speech, as things stand, Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama are now on a collision course. This is the situation created after Obama told Netanyahu that all Israeli settlement building must not be continued and that the two-state formula is the sole solution for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. By sending his envoy George Mitchell back to Jerusalem, Obama has stressed that he means business and his operative word is 'immediately' when it comes to the issues of settlement and the restarting of the two- state peace talks as envisaged in the Roadmap peace plan. This is the political reality the Israel leader will have address and he has his work cut out for him.

Barack Obama

For his part, Netanyahu is more convinced than ever, that a Palestinian state on Israel's border in Judea & Samaria (West Bank) would threaten Israel's security. The Prime Minister as do numerous other Israelis have only to point to the precedent of Gaza which Israel handed over Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in 2005. What transpired was that radical Hamas, supported by Iran, then won the next democratic Palestinian and expelled Abbas in a bloody coup. This 'democratically elected dictatorship', a phrase coined by Professor Yehuda Bauer, then proceeded to convert the entire Gaza Strip into one big launching pad for firing rockets at Israeli civilians just over the border. This in Netanyahu's view is a precise preview for what will happen on the West Bank. Therefore, the Prime minister may very well repeat his position that Israel does not want to govern the Palestinians, so they can have a state but' absent a handful of powers that could endanger the State of Israel'. That means without an army or the right to forge alliances with states like Iran.

Moreover, his Likud party stands firmly behind the the Jews' historical right to build everywhere on public land in Judea & Samaria: considered to be an integral part of the biblical home of the Jewish people which has an unbroken line with these lands dating back more than 3,000 years. (Many Israelis have taken issue with Obama's linking the suffering of the Palestinians with the Jews in the Holocaust. How could the massacre of six million Jews be compared with the Palestinians who, Jews, rejected the U.N. Partition Plan of 1947 and  with the Arab states immediately launched a war to destroy the Jewish community that did accept the two state solution at that time. It is an undeniable fact that since the Palestinians have brought suffering upon themselves by rejected repeated peace offerings and never giving up terrorism until this very day. In this historical context, the U.S. President's reference to the struggle of African-Americans with the Palestinians was also jarring to Israeli ears. Subsequently, Obama has stressed the need for the Palestinians to end the terrorism and arriving in Israel, George Mitchell referred to the 'Jewish' state of Israel, which President Abbas has vowed never to accept. 

Netanyahu can state unequivocally that he will not make security concessions to the Palestinians that will put Israelis in harm's way

Having said all that, how should the Israeli Prime Minister, who like the U.S. President, has a first duty of protecting his people? In this respect, Netanyahu can state unequivocally that he will not make security concessions to the Palestinians that will put Israelis in harm's way. Part of the answer is embedded in the very strong security, political and economic support the U.S. lends Israel and which could be impaired by a rupture with the Obama administration which has told Israel it will brook no opposition to its approach. Clearly, no responsible Israeli leader would want to risk a crisis with America with the Iranian nuclear threat looming closer day by day. (Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir did so with the administration of Bush senior, but there was no existential threat to the Jewish state at that time). So in his policy speech Netanyahu must try and square the circle on the two state solution and the claim that building at existing settlements is eating up land needed for the Palestinian state on the West Bank.

Former P.M. Ariel Sharon (Photo: Amit Shabi)

Two state solution for two peoples: Although he has refused to relate to the two-state solution, Netanyahu is already on record as honoring previous agreements ratified by former Israeli governments and this includes the Roadmap's two states. It was actually Mr. Security - Ariel Sharon who was pressured by former President George Bush to accept the Roadmap. ( Bush then, as is Obama today, was seeking to corral stronger Arab support in dealing with the issues of Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran).

Netanyahu can insist the two state solution must be defined as one Palestinian and the other Jewish

So even if Sharon himself was forced to go along with the Roadmap, what can Netanyahu do? However, Netanyahu can insist  the two state solution must be defined as one Palestinian and the other Jewish and that Israel will insist on a clear cut Palestinian recognition. West Bank Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has vowed that he would never recognize Israel as a Jewish state. This is not just semantics. By refusing this recognition, the Palestinians leave the door open for future attempts  to carry on their attempts to topple Jewish control of the territory known as Israel. By recognizing the Jewish state, the Palestinian leadership would also be sending a message to the Palestinian people that the struggle to return is over and they must be satisfied with living in Palestine of the West Bank and Gaza.

Speaking to the Washington Institute for Near East, Minister For Strategic Affairs Moshe Yaalon stressed the importance of this aspect. Yaalon , a former IDF Chief of Staff said: ' The real obstacle to peace has always been the Palestinians' refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and to halt the terrorism. In their absence, the establishment of a Palestinian state will be a source of instability to Israel, Jordan and American  interests in the Middle East'. The reserve general went on to say that he had supported the Oslo process of 1993 with Yasser Arafat and the hope for 'peace now'. However Oslo, like the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, had backfired  and it was important to learn from these experiences. Yaalon declared that 'instant peace' would fail because of the Palestinian reality. Apparently mindful of Obama's gung ho approach for quick results, Yaalon said that a peace deal within two years would lead to the creation of a terrorist state of Hamastan on the West Bank similar to Gaza. He could have added that it was similar American pressure on Israel to let Hamas run in the Palestinian elections that resulted in the Palestinians electing Hamas which created an Iranian- backed terror state in Gaza today. On the other hand, Defense Minister Ehud Barak of Labor has argued that the differences with the new Obama administration have been blown out of all proportion and Netanyahu should accept the two-state formula. 

One option for Netanyahu could be that building will be carried out only within the existing domain of the settlements

Settlements: Obama backs the Palestinian claim that settlement building is at the expense of a future Palestinian state. Israeli governments have not established any new settlements in recent years on the West Bank although the 'natural growth' at existing settlements continues. One option for Netanyahu could be that building will be carried out only within the existing domain of the settlements  and not on adjoining land to the settlement. There is no way that Netanyahu will agree to stop building in Jerusalem neighborhoods which Israel has long declared is not on the table.

In any event, it will be hard to jump-start a peace process before the Palestinians can make peace among themselves. Meanwhile, despite the lull in the rocketing from Gaza, the terrorists are continually probing along the border. The latest twist was the attempted suicide raid by an estimated ten attackers with a new twist. Until now the terrorists have tried various tactics such as sending school children with explosives packed inside their school bags, pregnant women, in the underclothes of women, on a woman with an medical appointment at an Israeli hospital, as well as a woman with a metal plate in her leg as a ploy for passing through a metal detector. In addition to exploiting these people for suicide bombers, a wagon packed with explosives and pulled by a donkey also tried to blow IDF soldiers at a checkpoint.

Now on June 7th for the first time, the terrorists used several horses packed with explosives. Under cover of the early morning mist in Gaza, the gunmen mounted on horses galloped toward an IDF crossing apparently with the aim of blowing up the horses among the soldiers. The troops were alert and in the ensuing firefight, four terrorists were killed as well as the horses. There were no Israeli casualties. Stand-up TV comedian Lior Shlein took issue with the use of the poor horses by the terrorists for such a mission. What did they have against the horses that they had to turn them into shahids? That is the term for Muslim suicide bombers or martyrs. And as martyrs, would the dead horses on entering horse paradise also be rewarded with 72 virgin mares?

David Essing

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