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Netanyahu's Palestinian Peace Proposal

Likud MK Ofir Ecunis: 'Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu Will Soon Present Long-Term Interim Plan For Palestinian State'

'Plan Must Include Solid Security Arrangements For Israel Including IDF Presence In Jordan Valley Basin'

Public Opinion Pollster:'Fifty-five Percent Of Israelis Believe Israel's Diplomatic Isolation Will Worsen Unless Government Takes Diplomatic Initiative; Thirty-four Percent Said No Change Was Required'

Benyamin Netanyahu

Faced with growing international isolation and strained relations with U.S., Israel's Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is now in the throes of formulating a new proposal for a Palestinian state. In an interview with Channel 1 TV, Likud Knesset Member Ofir Ecunis, a confidant of the Prime Minister has alluded to some key points. Earlier this week, Netanyahu startled his Likud caucus in the Knesset by declaring: 'Wake up, we can't break our heads against the wall by insisting on settlement building in areas designated for Palestinian state!' This week, Israeli security forces also fired with rubber bullets at violent settlers who tried to prevent the demolition of an illegal outpost on the West Bank.

Faced with the threat by the UN General Assembly to recognize a Palestinian state on the lines of 1967 and a more assertive role by the 'Quartet', Israel's Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is now drafting a new proposal for recognizing a Palestinian state with 'provisional borders' in the West Bank. He is expected to reveal the plan within the coming weeks, possibly during an address to the U.S. Congress or to the AIPAC lobby in the U.S. Appearing on Channel 1 TV, Likud MK Ofir Ecunis disclosed that the proposal is now in the working stage and was yet to be finalized. However, the confidant referred to several aspects. In light of the refusal by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to enter direct negotiations on a final peace treaty, the alternative was a 'long-term interim plan of ten to fifteen years. First and foremost, the current uncertainly in the Middle East, also necessitated solid security arrangements for Israel including an IDF presence in the Jordan Valley Basin'.

When asked about Netanyahu's shocker against wide scale settlement building in light of Israel's worsening diplomatic situation and the upheavals in the Middle East, Ecunis replied:'This was not surprising because the Likud's position, going back to the late Menahem Begin, has always been that we do not want to rule over another people'. On the security issue, Netanyahu can be expected to reject any notion of an international force playing any role. The utter failure of the UN peacekeeping force in south Lebanon to block the massive flow of rockets and other weapons from Syria is now staring Israel in the face. Netanyahu insists future security arrangements must be such that they will be 'disincentives' for anyone to break a peace accord.

Inside the cabinet, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Minister Dan Meridor have been pressing Netanyahu to go on the diplomatic initiative. Since last September, when the PM refused to extend the settlement freeze, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, has exploited the diplomatic stalemate winning massive support from South American countries and others in the UN General Assembly to vote for recognition of 'Palestine' this September. Both Barak and Meridor also went public this week warning that Israel was jeopardizing the settlement blocs in Judea & Samaria by not taking the diplomatic initiative. The Haaretz report that German Chancellor Angela Merkel, undoubtedly a friend of Israel, had rebuked Netanyahu for 'doing nothing' to advance the peace process has also created a negative image for the PM. In fact, Netanyahu has been trailing Opposition leader Tzipi Livni in opinion polls, although it's doubtful that Livni could form a coalition if elections were held today. On this score, Barak has expressed doubt whether the composition of Netanyahu's current coalition would improve the concessions required. In his view, the PM should be ready to do what is needed in the national interest and bring Livni's Kadimah party into the government, if Likud hard liners or Shas and the small far Right parties threaten to bolt the coalition.

Avigdor Lieberman (Photo: Amit Shabi)

For his part, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman was actually the first to raise the notion of an interim accord, in light of the Palestinian refusal to negotiate a final agreement. Interviewed by the Yisrael Hayom newspaper, before the latest news of Netanyahu's latest move, Likud Cabinet Minister Benny Begin signaled that in light of the revolutions in the Middle this was not the time for Israel to be making concessions. In private life, the son of the late prime minister is a geologist with a PH.D. and he applied his expertise in earthquakes to the current political upheavals rocking the Middle East. Begin cautioned: 'Like earthquakes, it is impossible to know where developments will lead. I don't want to guess so I ask myself what do I know. There are three examples of democracy in the Arab world - Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq. Paradoxically, all three are more perfect democracies than Israel because they have a constitution as well as an elected parliament, a legal system, scheduled elections, as well as an opposition that can replace the government. Let's examine each of them.

Turkey is the oldest democracy but in 2002, the Islamic Development and Justice party was elected by Turkish voters. And now Turkey is identified with the radical axis comprised of Iran and Syria. Several months ago, Turkey defied the U.S. and voted against its resolution in the U.N. for new sanctions against Iran designed to halt the nuclear weapons program. Turkish President Gul met with his Iranian counterpart Ahmadenijad and announced the goal of destroying Israel. Then look at Lebanon's current 'coalition' crisis. Is it not clear who rules Lebanon today? It's a democracy in everything except for the reality of Syria and Iran having the final say. Moreover, there are two armies in Lebanon: the state's armed forces and the stronger army of Hezbollah, a terror organization backed by Syria and Iran, that have supplied it with an arsenal of fifty thousand rockets, aimed solely at Israel. How does Lebanese democracy advance peace in the Middle East?

Then there's Iraq, a young democracy that conducts elections, has a government and a parliament as well as a constitution. But a closer inspection also reveals that an important component of the the Iraqi government is Muqtada Al Sadr, an extreme Islamist, who perpetrated terror attacks. In the end, an Iraqi government could be formed only with an agreement by Iran and Syria to divvy up their spheres of influence. At the moment it looked like a dream come true - the dictator was thrown out and replaced by democracy, but this is only wishful thinking that ignores the existing reality. In effect, they divided control between the extremists and the radical Islamist factions are more determined and more organized. Under these conditions, determination and organization are factors to be reckoned with. Look at the map: Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Turkey are five states that are mostly democratic.

Does this alignment of democracies foster Middle East peace? This is the reality and all the rest is guess work. Whoever speaks about domesticating the Muslim Brothers in Egypt does not know what he's talking about. He may be a senior government official, a philosopher or an Arab affairs expert. However, we saw what transpired when the Palestinians held an election monitored by international observers. That was in the Palestinian Authority and with the encouragement of the U.S., which assumed Hamas would not stand a chance. But what happened was that Hamas controlled the system and it is a branch of the radical Muslim Brothers. They took over Gaza and a year later they launched rockets at the population of Israel'.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas

Begin thinks the West is now making a big mistake about the Middle East, and that Iran and Syria are growing stronger while Israel is endangered.'In the wake of the revolutions in the Arab world, everyone is happy. Western democracies are happy and anticipate that democracies will develop in those countries. However, Iran and Syria are also rejoicing. The conclusion is that one of the two sides is wrong. I fear that the loser is not the radical axis. What are the democracies in the Middle East, we can see them before our very eyes. We conducted a democratic experiment with the Palestinians and the outcome led to only one conclusion - that in recent weeks, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has been calm, cool and collected. His approach has been one of caution while stressing the need for stability'

Benny Begin's point of view reflects the overall thinking of a number of other Likud cabinet ministers, and when it comes to Israeli security it is also in line with Netanyahu. But from Netanyahu's vantage point, he needs to something in the diplomatic arena where Abbas has been running rings around him since the end of Israel's settlement freeze last September. So how much room for maneuver does the Prime Minister have when it comes for presenting new proposals to stem Israel's growing isolation? A Rafi Smith opinion poll shows that 55% of Israelis believe that Israel's international position will only worsen unless the government takes the initiative - only 34% were of the view that nothing would change. Eleven percent were undecided. Kadima, Labor and secular voters said Israel must so something, the 34% who felt that no diplomatic change was necessary were mainly Likud and Lierberman supporters. The only thing is that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has already made clear that the idea of an interim agreement is a dead letter.

David Essing

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