Wednesday, August 03, 2011

"Confronting Rumors"

Arlene Kushner

There were reports yesterday -- from at least one Internet and one broadcast source -- that Netanyahu had caved to Obama's demands and was willing to participate in negotiations with the PA that might lead to withdrawal to the '67 lines. With this a creeping panic set in, within nationalist circles here and abroad

But I do not believe those rumors are true as claimed -- they are an exaggeration of the reality. The reality? Not precisely what nationalists -- myself among them -- would prefer in an ideal world. But not nearly as alarming as those rumors.

Yesterday, Netanyahu told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that "we are interacting with the US to put together a document using language from Obama's second speech." Ah. The second speech. That is the AIPAC speech, given on May 22, 2011. It followed by days a speech give by Obama at the State Department that called for permanent borders based on the '67 lines. Obama took a lot of flack for that speech and was upbraided by a furious Netanyahu in a meeting that followed the speech. That was the best of Netanyahu, a prime minister of whom we were able to be very proud.

Obama then went to AIPAC and backtracked, explaining what he "really meant" in his earlier speech, "since my position has been misrepresented several times."

" means that the parties themselves -– Israelis and Palestinians -– will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967 [the Green Line]...It allows the parties themselves to account for the changes that have taken place over the last 44 years. It allows the parties themselves to take account of those changes, including the new demographic realities on the ground, and the needs of both sides."


This sounds similar to the letter that President Bush gave to Prime Minister Sharon in April 2004, which read in part:

As part of a final peace settlement, Israel must have secure and recognized borders, which should emerge from negotiations between the parties in accordance with UNSC Resolutions 242 and 338. In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers [in Judea and Samaria], it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949 [which is what the '67 lines refer to], and all previous efforts to negotiate a two-state solution have reached the same conclusion. It is realistic to expect that any final status agreement will only be achieved on the basis of mutually agreed changes that reflect these realities."

If that is what Obama meant, there would be reason to be reassured. But Obama is not Bush (as Obama himself is always eager to tell us).

The sticking point here, and it's a serious one, is whether that border alluded to by Obama -- which would be "different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967" -- would require land swaps so that in the end the PA would end up with land equivalent to everything beyond the Green Line. If that is the case, in spite of the fancy footwork, this would be an agreement based on the '67 lines.

In recent years it has become an article of faith in political/diplomatic circles -- internationally, certainly, and even among the left wing here -- that the '67 lines represent the starting point. But seez who? The SC Resolution 242 indicates nothing of the sort. Even Bush's 2004 letter doesn't allude to this. It has crept up on us by virtue of solid PR from the other side.

I do note, however, that Obama also talks about the "needs" of both sides. If he were serious in this regard, it would be clear that -- with all of the instability in the world today, including the threat of a Hamas takeover of PA areas -- Israel's security needs require a presence in the high places of Samaria and in the Jordan Valley. Then we would truly not be talking about '67 lines. Big if. Security Council Resolution 242 recognized our need for secure borders, but this hasn't been Obama's position.


Netanyahu had additional things to say to the Committee, and some of it is reassuring. Coordination with Washington, he says, includes a basic agreement that Israel must be recognized as a Jewish state and that Hamas cannot be a partner in the negotiations. These requirements, in and of themselves, preclude PA participation. And they indicate that Netanyahu has not simply caved -- has not conceded a willingness to do "whatever it takes" to bring the PA to the table.

There is one other specification: As a Jerusalem official cited in the JPost put it, Netanyahu "has been clear that Israel will not return to the 4th of June 1967 borders (sic)."

Fine. Good. This refutes the rumors.

~~~~~~~~~~ concern still stands. Does this also mean that the '67 lines would not be a starting point for negotiations, with final borders determined via swaps? That would not be acceptable, and it is not clear what the case is.

Netanyahu told the Committee yesterday that coordination with the US was better than had been expected and that Israel would not pay an outrageous price to start the talks.

According to the official cited above, however, "Israel has shown willingness to accept a package that includes a formula on borders." Such a package could include borders "that would be difficult for Israel to accept." Notice the use of the word "could" -- which seems to imply it's possible but not yet determined.

So what the hell are we talking about? What does our prime minister consider "not outrageous"?

It's all terribly amorphous, and we're not going to get clear answers any time soon.


It is a stipulated given, within what is being discussed with the US, that whatever Israel agrees to would apply only if the PA does not go to the UN. PA officials can't first go to the UN and then expect whatever deal might have been offered.

And I will mention here that I've seen reports indicating that Israel reserves the right to express reservations during the negotiating process (should there be such a process). But this is nonsense. Once something is agreed to, no one will pay attention to our reservations.


The reason for this current flurry of diplomatic activity is obvious. September is not far away and so neither is the UN gambit by the PA:

The PA has persisted in its determination to petition one UN body or another to recognize it as a state or accept it for membership, or whatever. (I am not being flippant here, but merely reflecting the massive confusion about this whole business.)

The US is solidly on record as opposed to any such unilateral action by the PA, in whatever form it might take. There is good reason to believe that the US will veto in the Security Council, if the issue is raised there.

The Obama administration, however, would be far happier if the issue were not raised in the UN -- with the US hand possibly forced with regard to that veto. It is understood to be a stance that would not play well in the Arab world. And so, the US is trying to devise a plan that might entice the PA back to the table.


Netanyahu does not have to cooperate with Obama. He could have laid out red lines and refused to budge from them.

But this is not the style of Binyamin Netanyahu. We know this. He totters on the edge of a slippery slope, in an effort to show he's a team player and not appear obstructionist. His reckoning, I truly believe, is that in the long run this serves Israel.

Often it's a question of how far down the slope he has slipped, and how it is that he perceives Israel will benefit. A very complex and difficult equation that is being calculated out of our line of vision.


The chances are close to nil that the PA will return to the table in response to concessions Netanyahu has made/or is considering making. And he certainly knows this. He said as much to the Knesset Committee. Abbas is going to stop his advance towards the UN and recognize Israel as a Jewish state? Come on!

So, it might be assumed that it's harmless, or safe, for Netanyahu to make concessions. Safer than if Abbas were likely to come to the table, certainly. But harmless, no. Every time concessions are made, it affects the thrust of whatever dialogue follows, even if there is no legally binding commitment.

And what concerns me here is that there is talk of a document. Putting it in writing is worse, even if the document says that the concessions only apply within this and this time frame, or these and these parameters.


Having said this, however, I will share a different, hypothetical, take on what's happening.

What if...

What if Netanyahu hopes to take a strong stand for Israel after the UN vote, declaring that the PA has voided Oslo with its unilateral UN action, and that Israel can now take unilateral actions as well.

What if -- perhaps pushed by the right wing of his coalition -- he is entertaining thoughts of extending Israeli civil law to the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria.

He would want to be able to go to the US and the EU and initiate a diplomatic initiative: Hey guys, we tried our best to cooperate but the PA stonewalled all efforts. Now please give us a pass on/lend tacit support to what we intend to do.

And he would know that in order to be able to say this later, he would have to cooperate at some level now.


I am not saying this is what Netanyahu intends. I don't know what he intends, and am not acquainted with anyone who does.

But this is not beyond the realm of possibility.

Netanyahu seems to be thinking broadly in this direction when he declares, "I am prepared to meet Abbas at any moment...However, this will not happen, because the Palestinians want to go to the UN no matter what...No one can say the Israeli side did not show willingness to negotiate, as opposed to the Palestinians, who have never been willing to negotiate."

He's setting a tone.

And I do know with certainty that there are members of the government and the Knesset who will be eager to push for Israeli unilateral action after a UN vote.

Certainly if Netanyahu does make concessions, this point should be promoted with great vigor in all possible venues, as we campaign for that unilateral Israel action, at last.


For those who have lost patience with Netanyahu, I share this, which is the stuff of nightmares:

Opposition leader Tzipi Livni (Kadima) made a statement to the prime minister with regard to negotiations with the PA:

"Your historical mistake of not listening to me, and [instead] stopping negotiations after the elections led to a colossal diplomatic failure...

"You are harming our strategic relationship with the US in order to get applause in Israel...Because of you, a Palestinian state will be declared without an agreement."


Be very clear on what she is saying: To keep the Obama administration happy, she would have sacrificed what the Israeli electorate wanted. PA leaders would not have had to think about going to the UN if she were prime minister, because she would have conceded whatever they wanted, including those '67 lines as borders. And she would have counted this as a diplomatic victory.

With these words she provides a perspective, reminding us of the ways in which Netanyahu has not caved, and giving us a somber, sickening picture of how much worse things might be.

© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by Arlene Kushner, functioning as an independent journalist. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.

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