Before I pick up on my theme for today, I want to share this from a Reuters piece:
“Israelis and Palestinians played down on Monday the prospects of their envoys meeting in Washington any time soon, and the White House said getting the two sides to agree to a peace deal remained an ‘enormous challenge.'”
Can we breathe easy yet? I was discussing with a colleague today the fact that Obama — seeing this as a political liability — has distanced himself from Kerry’s push for negotiations. We would know something serious was happening if he were to step in and to take credit. As it is, John Kerry alone has egg on his face.
Now…finally, it’s time to go back and examine the statement from our prime minister, made in response to Kerry’s announcement about talks in Washington DC — the announcement that made it sound as if negotiations were imminent.
With Netanyahu, there is the perennial question of whether his statements are genuinely meant and reflect his own convictions, or whether they are part of the game he is playing. Truth to tell, I was alarmed by his response to Kerry’s announcement, because it seemed that the prime minister was really on board and had possibly even made seriously disturbing concessions.
Now that the picture is somewhat clearer, I’m willing to cut him a bit more slack and say that I don’t know exactly what he really believes or intends, and that at least part of what he said might have been by way of “stroking” Kerry.
But my goal here is not to examine the sincerity of Netanyahu’s convictions as he made his statement. Rather, it is to respond to what he said, on the face of it.
“The resumption of the peace process is a vital strategic interest for the State of Israel.
“It is important in and of itself in order to try and bring about the conclusion of the conflict between us and the Palestinians, and it is important in light of the strategic challenges that are before us, mainly from Iran and Syria.”
The two main goals in seeking a peace agreement that he enumerated were: “Prevention of the formation of a bi-national state between the sea and the Jordan that would endanger the future of the Jewish state, and prevention of the creation of another terrorist state sponsored by Iran within the borders of Israel, which would be no less of a threat to us.”
“Vital strategic interest” Ouch!
Let’s imagine for the moment that what he meant was that coming to the table was a vital strategic interest. It could be (what he meant), because he didn’t say that reaching an agreement with the PA was of strategic importance. And this would be his style. Coming to the table might get the world off our back, prevent economic boycotts, avoid conflict at the UN, etc. etc.
I don’t really know what he meant, and I don’t like it that he said this. If he was referring to simply coming to the table, while I would disagree, I would understand his position.
But the fact is that reaching an agreement with the PA serves NO strategic interest for Israel. Israel’s vital strategic interests include protection of national rights and security for her citizens. We’d be considerably weaker on both counts were we to reach an agreement with the PA. We would be required to surrender territory, including in eastern Jerusalem, that is at the heart of our ancient heritage, and we would have borders that rendered us militarily more vulnerable. Allowing ourselves to become weaker cannot be a “vital strategic interest.”
Why come to the table if there is no intent to finalize a deal? Why, that is, beyond making Kerry happy? There are those who make the case that if the parties talk it defuses tensions and can promote constructive low level cooperation, e.g., on issues of common ecology. MK Lieberman maintains that negotiations are helpful for managing the conflict, not solving it.
And so, if what Netanyahu was promoting was simply coming to the table, there is a case to be made for this.
It has been said and said, and said again: “conclusion of the conflict between us and the Palestinians” is not possible. Not unless we agree to a suicidal arrangement. The demands of the Palestinian Arabs, their minimum requirements, are antithetical to Israel’s best interests.
It is unfortunate that Netanyahu mentioned Iran and Syria here. This fallacious linkage has been made repeatedly by Obama and others. No need to promote it. (Here too, he might have been playing to the White House.) You’ve got me, in terms of how our strategic challenges with these other countries would be diminished if we were negotiating with or had an agreement with the PA. Iran and Syria use “occupation,” “apartheid,” etc as verbal, diplomatic weapons against us. And they’re delighted to back any scenario that would weaken or diminish us, But anyone who imagines that the Syrians or the Iranians are truly invested in or concerned about the establishment of a state for the Palestinian Arabs is dreaming. If they didn’t have this weapon to use against us, they’d manufacture another.
I would point out here, as well, that the growing influence of jihadist forces in Syria means there is the possibility that these radicals might ultimately move into Jordan and topple the king. Then, more than ever, we would need our full military presence right to the border with Jordan. Relinquishing Judea and Samaria now, in particular, would be very unwise in terms of military strategy.
“Prevention of the formation of a bi-national state between the sea and the Jordan that would endanger the future of the Jewish state.” Sigh…
Those who see Netanyahu as tilting left these days point to this argument that he has begun making. It is relatively new for him and is a position advanced by those who advocate a “two state solution”: We have to give the Palestinian Arabs a state, or else we’ll end up with one state for everyone and ultimately they’ll become the majority .
There are several fallacies built into this argument. The first has to do with demography and inflated population statistics for the Palestinian Arabs. The population statistics of the PA that are utilized for these dire prediction are inaccurate: the PA double-counted Arab residents of Jerusalem and counted Palestinian Arabs who have been out of the area for years. The overcount is in the range of one million. And then, of course, predictions regarding how many babies are going to be born are also, automatically, inflated.
Part of the prediction of how many Arabs there will be, compared to how many Jews, between the river and the sea, is based on presumptions of birth rates. And these are proving erroneous as well. It has always been assumed that Arabs have more babies. But, surprise! it’s no longer the case. Jewish and Arab birthrates are converging.
You might want to see this article on Israeli demography:
Add to this the fact that Arabs regularly leave Judea and Samaria, while aliyah continues to increase the Jewish population of the area.
All in all, there is only a very weak argument, if any, for abandoning historical areas of Israel because of fear that Arabs will predominate.
I will add here that, if there remains a desire to prevent even the possibility of being overwhelmed demographically by Arabs, there are ways to deal with the situation short of giving the Palestinian Arabs a state. The “two state” concept is fairly recent and it’s important to point out that this is not what was conceptualized by Yitzhak Rabin after he signed on to Oslo. He spoke of an autonomy that would be short of a full state.
Such an autonomy might be established according to a number of different scenarios (e.g., in federation with Jordan). What’s important is that they be examined seriously. To jump directly to the conclusion that we must give them a state in order to prevent their numbers overtaking us is short-sighted and silly.
The final argument — “prevention of the creation of another terrorist state sponsored by Iran” — astounds me. What is implied here is that if we allow the PA to establish a state, which would (but of course!) be stable, secure and moderate, it would prevent Hamas or other radical groups from moving in.
But let’s quickly review the facts:
The difference between the PLO and Hamas is more cosmetic and tactical than strategic. Both seek the elimination of Israel. PA maps have eradicated Israel completely and the PLO covenant calls for Israel’s destruction.
The PA is already very much in bed with Hamas. Hamas definitely has a presence in the PA areas of Judea and Samaria. PA security forces moonlight for Hamas sometimes, and have been known to pass them information.
What keeps Judea and Samaria as secure as it is, with regard to Hamas terrorism, etc., is the presence of the IDF. The Israeli army does nightly operations in the Arab areas to take out terrorist cells, etc.
Abbas and his entourage are hated by Palestinian Arabs; lacking popular support, they are weak. Hamas is just waiting for the establishment of a Palestinian state, which they would take over. Military intelligence analysts have said repeatedly that it would be a matter of only a very short time until a PA state would become a Hamas state.
Unequivocally, the best way to prevent the establishment of such a state is for Israel to maintain a presence in the area.