Netanyahu's speech ends the hope of a Palestinian state
IN the wake of post election disturbances in Iran, an event of great importance was not covered in the international media with the attention that it deserved. In Israel, the rightist Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made his much awaited speech on Palestine that, before the Iranian upheaval, had been heralded in the media as an event to watch, particularly as it was expected to be Netanyahu's response to the Cairo speech of President Barak Obama on June 4th in which he had made specific and optimistic recommendations for the resolution of the Palestinian problem.
Benjamin Netanyahu made his speech on June 14th at the Begin-Sadat Centre for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University outside Tel Aviv. He grudgingly accepted the idea of a Palestinian state. But that was about all. By the conditions he gave for accepting the state of Palestine, he took away almost all the elements that make a state. The Israeli Prime Minister's idea of a Palestinian state is one that should be completely demilitarized, which must be guaranteed by the United States and the international community. It would have no right over its airspace. Netanyahu's independent state of Palestine would have no part of Jerusalem as its capital; that would exclusively and totally be the capital of Israel. The refugees would have no right of return and the settlements would remain. The Israeli settlements created on occupied lands would remain and although new settlements would not be created, existing ones would be allowed "natural growth" for "normal life" that would allow limited construction.
The offer of the Israeli Prime Minister has been rejected, quite understandably, by the Palestinians straightaway. Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said after the speech: "Benjamin Netanyahu spoke about negotiations, but left us with nothing to negotiate as he systematically took nearly every permanent status issue off the table." In fact that is exactly what Netanyahu did. He systematically took out of the table all the progress made in years and years of negotiations that had brought the two protagonists close to a deal towards the final days of the Clinton presidency. Netanyahu has also refused to make any reference to the American backed peace plan known as the road map. Likewise the Arab Peace Plan given by then Crown Prince and now King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia in 2002 that had also injected enthusiasm in the past, has also been ignored. This plan offered on behalf of the Arab Nations assurances of normalization of their relations with Israel in return for Israel's withdrawal from all occupied territories including East Jerusalem and a "just settlement" of the Palestinian problem. Then Prime Minister Olmert said that the Plan was a step in the right direction as it was "a new way of thinking, the willingness to recognize Israel as an established fact and to debate the conditions of the future solution."
In conceding on a Palestinian state, Netanyahu has rejected all other Palestinian demands such as withdrawal from occupied territories and dismantling of the settlements; the right of the refugees to return, East Jerusalem as a capital, etc. In fact, he has taken away much more than even the minimum that is required for resolving the Palestinian problem. The Palestinian state that he has proposed would in fact be little better than an autonomous entity furthest removed from even the most casual and childish definition of statehood.
In fact it is not that the Israeli Prime Minister has demolished all foundations the Palestinians consider necessary for their statehood; he has introduced a very dangerous element into the peace process, if it can at all be called a peace process in the context of the conditions set by the Israeli Prime Minister. Netanyahu has demanded from the Palestinians and the Arab nations a clear recognition of Israel as state for the Jewish people. In this demand, he has embedded clearly, if subtly, the concept that non-Jews would have no position in Israel. That just ends the hope of millions of Palestinian refugees of their right to return to the land where their forefathers had lived for thousands of years; it also means that the Jewish state of Israel would have the right to push out the non-Jews from Israel, if they so desire.
Netanyahu has trashed the road map, the Arab Peace Plan and all other past negotiations. The speech was an anti-climax to the hopes among the Arabs that was raised by President Obama's Cairo speech. President Hosne Mubarak said Netanyahu's "call to recognize Israel as a Jewish state complicates things further and scuttles the possibilities for peace." Walid Jumblatt, the Lebanese Druze leader asserted that Netanyahu delivered "a war speech that practically torpedoed and crippled all possibilities for a compromise," and that "makes the region susceptible to great dangers that might explode in different directions." Mohammed Sobeih, the Arab League's Undersecretary General for Palestinian Affairs, said that while "extremists in Israel" might like the speech, it was "too far from what peace needs."
They must not therefore have been very pleased by the reaction of the US President who described the speech as a "forward movement", adding "we're seeing is at least the possibility that we can restart serious talks." The US President also said that the Palestinians must accept Israel's right to exist and must put "an end to incitement against Israel and an end to violence against Israel." President Obama has thus set Israel's right to exist and guarantee of her security as core issues for the settlement of the Palestinian problem, expecting the Palestinians to accept these conditions for creation of the Palestinian state even where their rights and demands to be sovereign would be left un-fulfilled. In giving a positive spin to Netanyahu's speech, President Obama has also overlooked the fact that in response to his blunt rejection of "the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements" in his Cairo speech, the Israeli Prime Minister has equally forcefully rejected US demand for a complete freeze on Israeli settlements in the West Bank, an issue that is critical to the peace process.
In defining Palestinian statehood, Netanyahu has re-written the basic pre-conditions that create an independent state. He has taken away the right of the future state of Palestine to defend herself against external aggression, a pre-condition that denies sovereignty to the future state of Palestine and would give that state a status comparable to a colony in the days of colonialism. It is hard to see how and why the Palestinians would be negotiating for their rights under these pre-conditions. The very logic of having a power armed to the teeth with both nuclear and conventional weapons existing side by side with a totally demilitarized one is perhaps the most incomprehensible explanation of peaceful coexistence.
During the trip of Barak Obama to Israel when he was a Presidential candidate, he had met Netanyahu who was not yet the prime minister. The two had an intimate exchange where Obama described himself as a leftist moving towards the centre and Netanyahu as a rightist, moving in the same direction suggesting that if they assumed office in their respective countries, there would be a middle course for resolution of the Palestinian problem. Netanyahu liked the comment. He therefore had asked the US President to watch his speech. The comments of President Obama about the prime minister's speech suggest that there has been a movement in the direction but in only one of the two. Prime Minister Netanyahu has not moved anywhere from his extreme right position; he has instead been able to encourage the US President to move towards his direction.
In retrospect, Netanyahu's speech was no surprise for he is well known for his extremist position and he has remained steadfast to it. It is Obama's reaction to this speech that has come as a surprise for, after raising so much hope for peace in the Middle East, he has backed a speech that is going to push back the peace process many steps back.