JERUSALEM — There has to be a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu evidently has adopted this double-entendre: That the core issues are not intractable and that the long-simmering conflict is detrimental to Israel’s national interests.
To reach this conclusion, the Israeli leader had to shed some of his basic political beliefs, especially his and his right-wing Likud party’s contention that all of Palestine west of the River Jordan is a Jewish patrimony.
Historically, the Likud’s ideological ancestor, the Zionist Revisionist movement, founded by Ze’ev Jabotinsky in the 1930s held that the East Bank, which was reconstituted by Great Britain as the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in 1946 is an integral segment of “Eretz-Yisrael,” the biblical land of Israel.
Netanyahu also understands that the constant danger of open conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians is detrimental to American interests. It puts the United States into a seemingly
impossible diplomatic position to the extent that it supports Israel while trying to maintain the good will of as many Arab and Muslim states as possible.
In view of the regional threat posed to both sides and the United States by the Islamic Republic of Iran, a united front composed of Israel and the neighboring Palestinian entity could be a genuine countervailing force.
The question is whether Netanyahu really believes that two states for two peoples living side by side in peace really is the only solution. He said as much in a watershed speech delivered June 14, 2009. But the price demanded by the Palestinian Authority headed by Chairman cum President Mahmoud Abbas is very high — perhaps higher than Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition government can be expected to pay.
Palestinian statehood, as envisioned by Abbas, requires that Israel cede the pre-1967 Jordanian sector of Jerusalem that it seized in the Six-Day War and let it become the projected state’s capital, withdraw from most of the West Bank, dismantling many if not most of its post-1967 Jewish settlements inhabited by more than 300,000 Israelis and allow a significant number of Palestinians who became refugees during the 1948-49 war to return to post-bellum Israel.
Netanyahu would have to drop his insistence that the Palestinian state’s recognize Israel as a Jewish state and as the national home of the Jewish people, a concept Abbas has rejected unequivocally. This stand derives in part from the fact that 20 percent of Israel’s citizens are Arabs. He also contends that Israel should not insist that he define its political identity. In other words, he argues, Israel can be whatever it wishes to be, a prerogative shared by all other independent states and should expect him or his government to codify acceptance of same.
Undoubtedly, Abbas realizes that Netanyahu’s motive is that his recognition of Israel’s Jewish identity would scuttle any chance that the Palestinians might achieve their longstanding and neo-religious insistence on the “Right of Return” — i.e. that the 1948-49 refugees be repatriated.
These impediments explain why the Obama administration’s architects of an Israeli-Palestinian rapprochement seek a “framework agreement” rather than a comprehensive settlement by August 2011. It would be a pragmatic arrangement based on a mutual willingness to cooperate on practical matters such as cooperation with regard to mutual security, freedom of movement within, to and from the area to be controlled by the Palestinian National Authority and expanded economic relations.
The fact that the Gaza Strip, which was ceded to the Palestinian Authority by Israel five years ago is governed by the hard-line Hamas organization and which opposes the U.S.-sponsored negotiations and would not submit to their outcome is the ultimate snare. Netanyahu abhors the prospect of a three-state solution in which an eternally hostile, Iranian-backed “Hamasstan” would emerge on Israel’s southwestern border as an internationally recognized enemy of Israel.
This could be one of the factors in his current penchant for pragmatism and flexibility in dealing with the United States and the PNA — the assumption that the upcoming talks under American auspices will only be able to go so far and no further and that in the meantime, Israel and the West Bank will be able to co-exist as partners if not allies at least until the ultimate problem, i.e. Hamas, is overcome.
(Jay Bushinsky, an Israel-based political columnist, can be reached at jay@actco,.co.il.)