Obama’s Logic vs. Netanyahu’s Rhetoric

May 19, 2009


 How many ways can you describe a two-state solution without actually coming out and saying it? 

 Palestinians and pro-Palestinians throughout the world have been looking forward to this meeting between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to see if Obama would be able to convince Netanyahu to agree to a two-state solution.

 During his visit with President Obama, Prime Minister Netanyahu never actually said he was willing to negotiate a two-state solution with the Palestinians; here’s what he did say:

 “I think we can envision an arrangement where Palestinians and Israelis live side by side in dignity, in security and in peace.”

 “I want to make it clear that we don’t want to govern the Palestinians.  We want to live in peace with them.  We want them to govern themselves.”

 “I think we can come to a substantive solution that allows the two people to live side by side, in security and peace and I must add prosperity.”

 Although Obama mentioned the two-state solution directly, multiple times, Netanyahu kept his comments about the solution just vague enough not to offend the Israelis who voted for him on the pretense that he would not negotiate for a two-state solution and that he would continue settlement construction in the West Bank.  At the same time, he alluded to a self-governing Palestinian state in order to show Obama that he was in-line with American policies about a free Palestinian state.

 So where does Netanyahu really stand on the issue of an independent Palestinian state?  During the meeting, he mentioned that there were several preconditions to beginning negotiations again with the Palestinians. 

 Netanyahu said that he would be willing to resume peace talks “immediately”, but that it depended on the Palestinians acceptance of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.  The Palestinians will also have to “enable Israel to have the means to defend it self.”

 So, Netanyahu’s message to the Palestinians is that if they meet his pre-conditions, then they ‘might’ have their own state.  True to form, Israel expects Palestine and the rest of the world to put Israel’s security concerns first, while not committing to give anything concrete in return.

 Another contentious subject that the two leaders discussed is the illegal settlement construction in the West Bank.

 For Palestinians, there will be no peace until the occupation ends—and the occupation of the West Bank is most easily recognized by the settlements.  Obama agreed with the Palestinians on the issue of settlements, saying “under the roadmap and under Annapolis there’s a clear understanding that we have to make progress on settlements.  Settlements have to be stopped in order for us to move forward.”

 As Obama was discussing settlements with Netanyahu, and Israel’s official message to the world was saying we will halt progress on settlements; new settlements were being constructed in the West Bank.  In addition to that, plans for 250 new housing units in East Jerusalem were being implemented—beginning with the forced eviction of many Palestinian families.

 Right now, there are over 500,000 settlers living in the West Bank in settlements that are considered illegal under international law. Without a halt on settlement construction, among other issues, most Palestinians would not negotiate with Israel. 

 Top Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erektat, commented, “Mr. Netanyahu failed to mention the two-state solution, signed agreements and the commitment to stop settlement activity.  He said he wants the Palestinians to govern themselves.  The question to Mr. Netanyahu is, ‘How can I govern myself while your occupation continues everywhere in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and how can I govern myself under your wall, roadblocks, and settlement activities?’”

 The humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip, caused by the severe Israeli blockade that has lasted for more than a year and the latest offensive on the territory by the Israelis—Operation Cast Lead, which contributed to the almost total destruction of infrastructure and the deaths of over 1,400 people—is also a contentious point to Palestinians.

 Although Obama opened the topic of Gaza with the usual reference to Israel’s security concerns over the qassam attacks on southern Israeli towns, he continued to say that “I think the humanitarian situation in Gaza has to be addressed…if the people of Gaza have no hope, if they can’t even get clean water…if the border closures are so tight that it is impossible for reconstruction and humanitarian efforts to take place, then that is not going to be a recipe for Israel’s long-term security or a constructive peace track to move forward.”

 Although Obama has consistently emphasized that Israel’s security is “paramount”, he has different ideas about how that security can be achieved than most Israeli leaders.  He suggests that peace in Gaza can best be achieved by improving the living situation of Gazans and giving them hope. 

 Most Israeli leadership has chosen the opposite route—battering the territory through war and blockades.  This approach still hasn’t contributed to a more secure Israel, as the qassam attacks have only become more frequent since Operation Cast Lead, so hopefully Netanyahu will take Obama’s advice and try a different method.

 Another way that Obama agrees with preserving Israel’s security, but not in the way Israel ‘wants’ him to, was illustrated during their discussion about Iran.

 Netanyahu, by this point sounding like a broken record—or at least an Israeli version of the Bush-years in the U.S.—reminds Israelis and the U.S. that “we face the same threats…terrorist regimes and organizations that seek to undermine peace and endanger both our peoples.” 

 And again, reminiscent of Bush’s excuse to invade Iraq, Netanyahu says that Iran’s nuclear program poses an “exstistential threat” and warrants an invasion.  

 Obama didn’t fall for Netanyahu’s fear tactic, however, and suggested another way to nullify this threat while preserving Israel’s security which does not involve war—negotiations.  Since Iran is having elections in less than a month, Obama’s plan is to give them to the end of the year to agree to halt their nuclear program. 

 Obama mentioned that giving Iran the time and space to decide for itself to stop the nuclear program would avoid “isolating or victimizing Iran” and that Iran could realize that there are other ways to “preserve their security without threatening other people’s security.”

 This line would also be applicable to Israel:  You can preserve your security without threatening other people’s security. 

 The best way for Israel to gain security would be to end the occupation of Palestine.  Without the occupation, Palestinians would have no reason to attack Israel.  And as Obama alluded to, peace between Israel and Palestine could contribute to a wider peace in the Middle East and the world. 

 Many terrorist organizations use the Israeli occupation of Palestine as the excuse for their activities.  When Netanyahu suggested that in order for there to be peace in Palestine, they must first deal with Iran; Obama answered the opposite.  If they create peace with Palestine, terrorist organizations will not have an excuse anymore—and Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas would lose their funding and purpose. 

 Overall, Obama seemed logical and more balanced than most previous U.S. presidents on the issue of Israel and Palestine.  He said he is committed to a two-state solution, an end to settlements, and an improvement in the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip. 

 Netanyahu, on the other hand, kept his comments vague enough to not offend Obama or the Israeli people who were counting on him to take a firm stance against the two-state solution. 

 Nabil Abu Rdeneh, aid to Palestinian President Abbas, said “Netanyahu did not mention a commitment to a two-state solution, and we need to see American action against this policy.”

 If there is going to be a two-state solution, it is clear that Israeli leadership will not be the driving force in that process.  In order to create real, lasting peace, America needs to step in and put a great deal of pressure on Israeli leadership. 

 Obama must demand that Israel respect the agreements that have already been made during the peace process.  They must create an independent Palestinian state—only then can there be stability, peace, and security in the Middle East.


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