This commentary was published in al-Hayat on 27/05/2011
The preconditions put forward by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in his speech before the joint session of the Senate and the U.S. House this week, are his and Israel’s onus alone. The most appropriate Arab response to the strategic framework proposed by Netanyahu for the peace process is to ignore it and act on the basis that this affair does not concern the Arabs. Each of the Arab and Israeli sides has its own visions and strategic frameworks, and within each camp, there are disagreements on both essence and implementation. At the end of the road, however, everybody’s options are limited.
Just like war with Israel is not an option for the Arabs, war with the latter at this juncture is not option for Israel either. The Israeli government seeks to preserve the status quo intact. But nonetheless, Israel fears that this may not be possible amid the winds of change blowing across the region. For this reason, Israel proposes peace offers that it has already constrained with impossible conditions with the aim of evading the implementation of the two-state solution […].
Once again, Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to retreat forward to avoid the commitments of peace-making, and to extend the status quo between war and peace, while continuing to manipulate the Palestinian fate through occupation and the postponement of the two-state solution. In this regard, Netanyahu was perhaps most angered by President Barack Obama’s reference in his speech, to the Palestinians’ “right of self-determination”, in addition to the strategic framework proposed by Obama for the outcome of the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, namely, two states along the armistice lines of 1967, with land swaps agreed upon by both sides.
Netanyahu wanted to go ahead with the peace ‘process’ but without arriving at any outcome. For this reason, he was furious at what Obama said; that it is time to clearly define the goal of these negotiations. Netanyahu also found change on the Arab arena an excuse to postpone serious negotiations for the establishment of the Palestinian state. However, Obama responded by saying, “I do not agree”, that the time is not appropriate now, but rather the opposite is true. Netanyahu thus became more and more furious. However, it is not the U.S. President alone who provoked the ire of the Israeli Prime Minister, but also a considerable segment of Israeli society that opposes his hindrance and obstruction of the two-state solution. He was also infuriated by a significant proportion of American Jews who want to see a permanent solution and who challenge the domination of the Jewish organizations active in the United States to impose their extremist ideas when it comes to Israel, even at the expense of American national interests. Benjamin Netanyahu thus turned to AIPAC, one of these Jewish organizations, to protect him from Obama’s pressure on him to make peace. However, his strongest sanctuary by far was the U.S. Congress, and its blind support for any Israeli government, even if this government’s policies run contrary to the interests of Israel itself.
Certain media outlets, especially television networks, showed the same amount of subservience to Netanyahu as the U.S. Congress, and carried sound bites and snippets from Netanyahu’s speech, for the purposes of media sensationalism, in an amazing show of naivety. However, this does not invalidate another reality on the U.S. scene, be it the media, the public opinion, the government or in policymaking circles, which is the explicit disagreement with the Israeli Prime Minister and his prohibitive ideas for the peace process. The Congress is solitary among U.S. official institutions, which have lined up behind the strategic framework adopted by the U.S. President. This is while bearing in mind that the State Department, the National Security Council and also the Department of Defense are all in agreement with the gist of Obama’s speech, as they consider the matter at hand to be at the core of U.S. national interests. At the international level as well, Netanyahu is leading Israel to major isolation by rejecting the internationally recognized foundations of the two-state solution.
Today, there are four initiatives or proposals, either conflicting or complementary to one another, regarding the Arab-Israeli question:
* The Arab Peace Initiative, which offers recognition of and peaceful coexistence with Israel, in return for its withdrawal to the 1967 lines to end the occupation and allow the establishment of the Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.
* The non-governmental Israeli initiative for peace proposed by 40 prominent politicians, and military and cultural figures in Israel, which came as a response to the Arab Peace Initiative. The signatories included the former head of the Shin Bet and former IDF Chief of Staff, as well as former head of the Mossad, former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s son and others. The crux of this initiative is that the Palestinian state must be established on the basis of an Israeli withdrawal from the Arab territories occupied in 1967, with land swaps, with East Jerusalem as its capital, and that the status of the Palestine refugees must be settled either through reparations or their return to the Palestinian state, except for some cases whereby some refugees are allowed to return to Israel proper.
* The U.S. President’s initiative is very similar to the unofficial Israel initiative, which revolves around the fundamentals laid down by the former Democratic President Bill Clinton, and the vision of the former Republican President George W. Bush, who in turn had spoken about putting an end to the occupation of the territories of 1967. However, what’s new about Obama’s proposal is that it has clearly set out the features of the outcome of the negotiations, with two states on the basis of the 1967 borders with mutually agreed land swaps, thereby putting an end the ‘process’ lasting indefinitely. In other words, he said something to the effect of, that the two states must have boundaries and the process must have limits, because patience, too, has its limits.
* The official Israeli initiative as put forward by Benjamin Netanyahu before the U.S. Congress, outlines the conditions for implementing the two-state solution by rejecting the 1967 lines, and keeping the settlements, while insisting on Jerusalem as a unified capital of Israel, in addition to security guarantees that comprise permanent Israeli military deployment along the Jordan River. This is in addition to prior recognition by the President of the Palestinian National Authority Mahmoud Abbas of Israel as a Jewish state, and his abandonment of the agreement he concluded with Hamas within the framework of Palestinian reconciliation.
But it is necessary for Benjamin Netanyahu and all those who support him in his bid for the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state to define what this means exactly. It is the duty of the European countries and the parties to the Quarter to call upon Israel to guarantee it would not deport Israeli Arabs, which number around 1.5 million, and also guarantee them full equality with the Jews in Israel in the so-called Jewish state.
Hamas too must clarify the meaning and end the ambiguity in its stances if it is truly sincere with regard to its willingness to accept peace with Israel on the basis of the two-state solution with the borders of 1967. It is not logical to conduct negotiations with an entity that Hamas refuses to recognize or recognize its right to exist. Hamas must choose and clarify, just like Israel must do. For this reason, ambiguity is a common denominator to both parties, and this does not serve the cause of the two-state solution and instead undermines the chances of its success.
In regard to Netanyahu’s demand that Abbas discard the Palestinian reconciliation and his comparison of Hamas to al-Qaeda, this is sinister because in reality, his goal is to incite and provoke, in order to obtain an excuse to evade U.S. and international pressure to achieve peace.
The strategy of nonviolently besieging Israel and through civil disobedience is more effective than the strategy of provoking Netanyahu through military action. Israel is well versed in war, but is befuddled and confused when it is faced with an unarmed march towards the border, civil disobedience or peaceful uprising like the one taking place within the Arab spring.
Continuing to build the institutions of the Palestinian state and providing financial, moral and political support to this state will force Israel to deal with a de facto reality that is outside of its control, and which will practically lead to the end of the occupation against Israel’s will, and not with its consent.
For this reason, ignoring Benjamin Netanyahu’s proposals as a strategy adopted by the Arabs is a good decision, along with persistent lobbying with Europe, Russia, the UN and the U.S. administration in order to bolster and enhance international consensus over the form of the final solution, should the negotiations be resumed. The ‘process’ of buying time and stalling, with a view to continue the ‘peace process’ for and by itself, has now stopped. Barack Obama has dared break that vicious cycle that in reality was the foundation of U.S. policy in this regard, and practically masterminded by Mr. Process himself, i.e. Dennis Ross. In truth, Ross himself today is part of Barack Obama’s vision, in his capacity as the person responsible for drafting U.S. policies on the Middle East at the National Security Council.
The U.S.-Israeli, or Jewish-Jewish dispute, has nothing to do with the Arabs. The Arabs must instead push forward with the Arab Peace Initiative, civil disobedience, and Palestinian state-building on the ground, while mobilizing international support for the accession of the Palestinian state to the UN. They must launch an intensive campaign in the media to show that the Arabs are advocates of peace and coexistence, and that Netanyahu’s Israel rejects both peace and coexistence. The Arab Americans meanwhile, are attempting to put pressure on Congress, but they will most probably fail. This is because the political structure of the U.S. Congress and the American electoral process relies greatly on Jewish funds and votes.