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U.S. PEACE PLAN & NETANYAHU'S DILEMMA

Binyamin Netanyahu (Photo: Amit Shabi)

 'Most Israelis do not want a bi-national state, I do not want a bi-national state!' If Israel's Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu means what he says, it is an indicator of where he is headed now.  Coming into the home stretch of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's exhaustive peace mission, Bibi's timing was crucial. Netanyahu has taken a meaningful step forward beyond his vague declaration in support of a two-state solution- Jewish and Palestinian. Obviously a Palestinian state would have to be founded on some undefined territory in the West Bank and Gaza. However, by rejecting the concept of a bi-national state, the Israeli leader has indicated that he is willing to part with the densely populated Palestinian parts of the West Bank, and with good reason. The high Palestinian birth rate would eventually threaten the very essence of the Jewish state of Israel, which Netanyahu insists the Palestinians must recognize. Former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat once said that if Israel remained in all of the West Bank: 'The womb of the Palestinian woman would achieve the eventual victory for Palestine'.

It appears that Netanyahu will bend with the new Obama wind of containment that is blowing from Washington, which is also being implemented in the Syrian and Iranian crises.

 In effect, Netanyahu, like some of his other historic Herut siblings, including Dan Meridor and Tzipi Livni, has parted company with far Right zealots such as Naftali Bennett of the Jewish Home party and many others in the PM's own ruling Likud. Despite Bennett's claims to the contrary, independent Israeli experts such as Prof. Pergola have warned that if Israel does not separate from most of the West Bank, it is only a matter of time before the Palestinians become a majority. (A Palestinian woman bears an average of five children, far more than an Israeli woman, except for the Haredi Ultra-Orthodox families that have an average of seven children.) The conclusion is that if Israel wants to continue being a Jewish democratic state, it must get out of the West Bank. Is it not a paradox that the founding of a Palestinian state would guarantee the Jewish majority in Israel? The Land of Israel ideology, into which Netanyahu was born and bred, cannot withstand the inexorable Palestinian population growth on the West Bank and remain a democratic country or be accepted by the Western democracies. Since Yitzhak Rabin signed the Oslo Agreement with Yasser Arafat in 1993, nearly every Israeli Prime Minister, including Peres, Barak, Sharon and Olmert, have taken partial or comprehensive steps to end the occupation and decrease the number of Palestinians under Israeli control. The only exception was Netanyahu in his first term from 1996-99. It appears that Netanyahu will bend with the new Obama wind of containment that is blowing from Washington, which is also being implemented in the Syrian and Iranian crises. Moreover, his point man, Secretary of State John Kerry, would not have made ten arduous trips to the Middle East if he had not received some conciliatory signals from Netanyahu. The European Union countries, possibly with a wink from Washington, have also been playing their part by threatening Israel with economic boycotts of one kind or another, if Netanyahu does not play ball. On the other hand, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States have been urging Abbas to be more forthcoming, although the Palestinian leader still refuses even to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

 

The proposal also referred to mutual recognition between Palestine and Israel, in which Israel would be recognized as the nation state of the Jewish people and Palestine as the nation state of the Palestinian people.

 But if the Kerry mission falls through and the U.S. blames Netanyahu, what lies ahead for Israel? Finance Minister Yair Lapid has revealed that his experts warn the floodgates of EU boycotts would open further to inflict a severe blow to the Israeli economy and the country as a whole. Moreover, Abbas would high tail it back to the UN in New York to launch a new diplomatic intifada against the Jewish state. Could Israel then depend on Washington's badly needed support? On the other hand, if Washington laid the blame on Abbas, the EU would oppose his diplomatic moves against Israel in the U.N. So, what is the U.S. framework paper, aimed at advancing the talks after the current deadline in April, likely to include? American diplomat Martin Indyk, who has been monitoring the Israeli/Palestinian deadlock, has leaked some of the proposals to American and Jewish leaders. According to Indyk, 75-80% of the 'settlers' would remain inside Israeli territory. (Settler spokesman Dani Dayan has charged this is 'misleading' because it includes the Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem, and would mean that 150,000 residents of Judea and Samaria would be uprooted from their homes, something that was 'repugnant and unacceptable'.) The proposal also referred to mutual recognition between Palestine and Israel, in which Israel would be recognized as the nation state of the Jewish people and Palestine as the nation state of the Palestinian people. Compensation would not only be paid to Palestinian refugees but also to Jewish refugees from Arab countries. Security arrangements would also involve Jordan and the West Bank as well as other new measures including unmanned aerial vehicles. The final agreement would stipulate an end to the conflict and all claims. Previously, New York Times reporter Thomas Friedman revealed some other details of the U.S. proposal that are expected to be presented with the next few weeks: 

  • Palestinian refugees would not return to Israel.
  • New borders would be based on 1967 line with certain settlement blocs to remain part of Israel.
  • Palestinians would be compensated with land swaps.

 

“You can have as many inspections as you want, but we are not going to roll back that program. In fact, we're going to expand the program.” - Rouhani

 All this is gathering steam against the backdrop with the Iranian nuclear threat looming as larger as ever despite the interim agreement signed with Tehran on November 24th. Make no mistake; although the Palestinian issue has pushed the Iranian crisis to the backburner, it is still top priority for Israel's Prime Minister. It is of crucial importance that Netanyahu remains in the good graces of the U.S., if the necessity arises for Israel to go it alone against Iran's nuclear weapons installations. Despite all the hullabaloo about the nuclear negotiations, one of its most ardent supporters Fareed Zakaria of CNN, now talks about a 'train wreck on its way here. Zakaria was flabbergasted when Iran's 'moderate' President, Hassan Rouhani, told him that Tehran would not dismantle any of its existing centrifuges (used for producing enriched uranium for nuclear weapons) 'under any circumstances'. Rouhani went on to declare: “You can have as many inspections as you want, but we are not going to roll back that program. In fact, we're going to expand the program.” And this was Zakaria's new assessment of Iran's intentions: 'Now that's a very different view from what the U.S. has laid out, where they expected a significant rollback of the program. They talked about shutting some of those centrifuges. They talked about dismantling the heavy water reactor at Arak. But he (Rouhani) made it categorically, specifically and unequivocally clear that none of that is going to happen. So I think we have a train wreck on its way here'. But the question remains whether or not the Obama administration is tuning in to Rouhani or playing it down as nothing more than Iranian rhetoric to placate criticism from hardliners at home?

 

'Tehran has made technical progress in a number of areas including uranium enrichment reactors and ballistic missiles for missile-delivered nuclear weapons. Iran has the necessary scientific, technical, and industrial capacities...'

 In any case, there is now American verification of Israel's intelligence assessment that Iran has the capacities to break out for nuclear weapons any time it wishes to do so. This confirmation came from James Clapper, Director of U.S. National Intelligence, who stated in a report to the Senate Intelligence Committee: 'Tehran has made technical progress in a number of areas including uranium enrichment reactors and ballistic missiles for missile-delivered nuclear weapons. Iran has the necessary scientific, technical, and industrial capacities; and this makes the central issue the political will to do so [break out for a nuclear weapon]'. But Clapper added the interim agreement and other transparency 'would provide earlier warning of a breakout'. America's top intelligence official also disclosed that Iran has the largest arsenal of ballistic missiles in the Middle East that could deliver nuclear warheads. He then noted that Iran's space program gives it the means to develop ICBMs (inter-continental ballistic missiles), which could provide Iran with the capability to target the U.S. At present, Iranian missiles are capable of reaching Israel and a number of European countries.

 

...if undeterred, the Iranians could be able to produce ICBMs within another three years or so...In other words, Obama could leave an American decision on a preventative attack against Iran to his successor.

 In the past, U.S. intelligence officials have estimated that, if undeterred, the Iranians could be able to produce ICBMs within another three years or so. This would be after President Barack Obama leaves office. In other words, Obama could leave an American decision on a preventative attack against Iran to his successor. But obviously Israel would be faced immediately with a 'clear and present danger' if and when makes its nuclear breakout. Although Secretary Kerry has again spoken about a military option if Iran does not downgrade its nuclear weapons capability in the coming negotiations, his boss indicated in his New Yorker interview that he has had enough of America's involvement in the Middle East and prefers a policy of containment. Prime Minister Netanyahu must be aware of the need to create the best possible relations with the U.S. if Israel decides it must go it alone against Iran. Therefore, it follows that the Israeli leader will do his utmost to comply with the imminent framework proposal on an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord. In the Palestinian camp, it will be extremely difficult for Abbas to accept that Palestinian refugees will not be returning to their old homes in Israel, and that Palestine must recognize Israel as the Jewish homeland. Netanyahu could put Abbas on the spot by accepting first. If the leaks prove to be accurate, the proposal is something that Israel can live with, or at least something the Prime Minister could put to the Israeli people in a national referendum, while expressing his own reservations on giving up the strategic Jordan Valley Basin and a Palestinian capital in Arab Jerusalem.

 

Overall, the U.S. plan resembles the proposal that President Bill Clinton presented at Camp David in 2000 to Prime Minister Ehud Barak and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat. However, Arafat refused to even reply, and returned home to launch the second intifada...

 However, it could trigger a breakup in his coalition with Naftali Bennett's party bolting the government. Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon might also lead a full-blown rebellion inside the Likud. Left wing Labor and Meretz could be counted on to back Netanyahu. In the past, former Likud PMs such as Menachem Begin and Ariel Sharon bucked their own Right wing Likud by withdrawing from Sinai and Gaza, but they were extremely strong leaders. It remains to be seen if Netanyahu is also made of their 'sterner stuff'. Overall, the U.S. plan resembles the proposal that President Bill Clinton presented at Camp David in 2000 to Prime Minister Ehud Barak and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat. However, Arafat refused to even reply, and returned home to launch the second intifada. At the time, Barak predicted that the Clinton plan, in which he played a significant role, would form the basis of a future Israeli-Palestinian peace plan. It appears that time is near at hand.

 

 

 David Essing

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