Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center right, sits with his wife Sara, center left, U.S. ambassador James Cunningham, right, and his wife Leslie during a reception for U.S. Independence Day at Cunningham's residence in Herzliya, July 1, 2009.
"Hoping the Next 100 Days Go Better"
Op-Ed, The Jerusalem Post
July 13, 2009
Author: Chuck Freilich, Senior Fellow, International Security Program
Belfer Center Programs or Projects: International Security
Binyamin Netanyahu is a lucky man: He got a second chance as prime minister, a rarity for national leaders.
To his credit, Netanyahu does at times stake out tough and unpopular positions, but correct ones, nonetheless. During his first term (1996–99), he insisted, as a condition for further progress, that the Palestinians finally put an end to terrorism and unequivocally amend the Palestinian Covenant's call for Israel's destruction. He was right, even if his motives were disingenuous.
Today, too, the conditions he set out for a two-state solution are essential. The Palestinian state will have to be demilitarized — security is Israel's rightful demand in exchange for territory. And the Palestinians do finally have to come to terms with Israel's existence as the nation state of the Jewish people, the reality that the "right of return" will be limited to the future Palestine and that some territorial changes will have to be made. Their ongoing refusal to do so, after 60 years, speaks volumes.
But so, too, does Netanyahu's pigheaded recalcitrance to recognize that the two-state solution, with whatever variations, is the only one which is both feasible and which preserves Israel's fundamental character as a state.
It would have been one thing had he truly opposed the two-state solution — a policy difference that people can genuinely disagree over. But his delaying tactics meant he lost on all levels: he was forced to back down, once again demonstrating poor judgment and weak leadership, and he caused serious harm before doing so.
FIRST, HE needlessly convinced the entire world that it is Israel, not the Palestinians, which opposes a two-state solution. In fact, long before independence, beginning with the first attempts to partition Palestine by the British Peel Commission in 1937 and the UN in 1947, Israel has always been in favor, the Arabs opposed. Yasser Arafat rejected Ehud Barak's dramatic proposals at Camp David and even the Clinton parameters, in which Israel agreed to a Palestinian state in all of Gaza and 97 percent of the West Bank, with a 1%–2% land swap. Mahmoud Abbas rejected Ehud Olmert's offer of 93.5% of the West Bank, with a complete land swap. Hamas rejects any agreement with Israel, and a de facto two-state solution already exists (Gaza and the West Bank).
The simple truth, that if Israel were to offer the Palestinians 100% of their demands, there would be no one capable of both accepting and delivering on this, was lost to international opinion. Netanyahu played tough, failed and delivered a severe blow to Israel's international standing.
Second, it was Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman who first created the dangerous and fallacious link between progress on the peace process and efforts to end Iran's nuclear program, which Israel considers an existential threat. Israel has an overwhelming interest in effective American efforts to end the threat, independently of any and all other considerations. Was it worthwhile making the two-state solution a source of contention, or was the linkage created deeply injurious?
Third, it was clear from day one that Obama intended to reach out to the Arab world and attempt a breakthrough toward peace. Netanyahu, who professes to "understand American," should have done everything in his power to align himself with the new administration's agenda. Instead, his obstinacy led to a glaring crack in relations with the US, a cardinal pillar of Israeli national security, and exposed an unprecedented degree of mutual alienation.
Netanyahu, understandably, does not want a domestic political crisis over the peace process, especially this early in his tenure, and in the end he avoided one. No coalition in decades, however, has survived for more than three years and his will fare no better. The crisis will come. Hopefully he will handle it better.
Convincing the world that Israel is the obstacle to peace, a destructive link between Iran's nukes and the peace process, an emerging rift with the United States — not bad for the first 100 days. I cannot wait for the next.
The writer, a former deputy national security adviser in Israel, is now a senior fellow at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. He is completing a book on national security decision making in Israel.
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