Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s critics are harping that his “passivity” and “intransigence” have led Israel to its lowest international standing in four decades. They say that he has allowed his rivals to, as Thomas Friedman wrote Saturday in The New York Times, “seize the initiative and set the agenda.” They say that because of Netanyahu, Israel is entering this week’s looming confrontation with the Palestinians weak and isolated.
Aluf Benn of Haaretz, for example, accuses Netanyahu of “a policy of refusing to budge” and faults him for not organizing a “flanking diplomatic move” or a “daring move in the style of Menachem Begin or Ariel Sharon.”
Our old “friend” Friedman is oh-so-agonized too. He has “never been more worried about Israel’s future.” He says that “Israel should have either put out its own peace plan or tried to shape the U.N. diplomacy with its own resolution that reaffirmed the right of both the Palestinian and the Jewish people to a state in historic Palestine and reignited negotiations.”
The problem is that Netanyahu has put forward his own peace plan exactly along Tommy-the-oracle’s lines, and that both “friends” and foes have conveniently ignored it. Both at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University in June 2009 and again in Congress earlier this year, Netanyahu set out a clear path: Two states for two peoples, with Israel making “painful” and “generous” withdrawals in order to make room for what Netanyahu foresaw as a “viable, independent and prosperous” Palestinian state.
Note that Netanyahu hasn’t visited a single settlement outside the main two settlement blocs; he froze all settlement construction for ten months; and he hasn’t really authorized any significant construction since. He told Congress that following a peace agreement, some settlements will end up beyond Israel’s borders, and he recently began tearing down outposts. Netanyahu seems to have reluctantly accepted the “1967 lines with land swaps” rubric too – even though that formulation by U.S. President Barack Obama is a crime against history.
In short, Netanyahu has bucked, not kowtowed to, his right-wing coalition partners and National Religious allies, and has moved to the center of the Israeli body-politic.
Benn and Friedman dismiss all this. Worse still, they forgive Mahmoud Abbas for his consistent refusal to enter real negotiations with Israel, for his inability and unwillingness to bend on any issue, and for his unilateral, aggressive U.N. diplomacy.
Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Obama are to blame for such hostile treatment of the Netanyahu government. They raised Palestinian and world expectations of Israeli concessions so high that it is only inevitable that Israel will experience a long period of global disgruntlement as Netanyahu correctly educates the world to lower its expectations.
Olmert handed Abbas a map with a 97 percent Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank marked on it, along with more than 100 settlements marked for destruction and a division of Jerusalem. Last fall, Obama spoke of his deep desire to recognize Palestinian statehood within a year, basically goading the PA into its unilateral-make-no-concessions mode.
Thus, Netanyahu is left with the unenviable job of dialing expectations down. A Palestinian state? Okay, but not when Abbas doesn’t have effective control over his own constituency and when tens of thousands of rockets are aimed at us from the territories. (Remember Hamas in Gaza?) Not on 97 percent of Judea and Samaria, and not under any “Judenrein” arrangements. Not without a security barrier in the Jordan Valley and on the Samarian hilltops. Not without an end to Palestinian attacks on Israel in global forums and an end to anti-Semitic broadcasts on PA television. Not without an end to Palestinian nonsense about refugee return to Israel. And no re-division of Jerusalem.
The Palestinians have a lot of climbing down and growing up to do if there is going to be a realistic peace deal. Yet the world continues to feed their unfettered aspirations and reward their recalcitrant behavior. Recognizing Palestine as a virtual “state” at the U.N. even though the Palestinians are not prepared to end the conflict with Israel would be yet another grave sin of global overindulgence of the Palestinians.
By ignoring Israel’s concessions for peace and constantly demanding more, while treating the Palestinians like a spoiled child who can never be told “no,” the world is not advancing the chances for peace. It is further delaying them.
* Originally published in Israel Hayom, September 19, 2011.