Once and for all, the bluff needs to be called on Israel's devious, relentless and scornful manoeuvring, writes Ayman El-Amir*
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has finally brought himself to pronounce the two-word anathema of "Palestinian state", restricted by numerous caveats. As he was addressing two audiences, the Obama administration and his ultra right-wing colonial settlement partners, he had to walk a tightrope. To Obama he popped the magic word of Palestinian state, to his extremist Likud partners and religious party zealots he elaborately outlined what this state could not do and would not be. He offered some peace slogans to the Arabs and warned against the global threat of a nuclear Iran. To the Arabs, both those defined as moderates as well as radicals, Netanyahu's peace charade was patently a non-starter.
US President Barack Obama threw a gauntlet to Netanyahu when he called in his speech in Cairo on 4 June for an end to Israeli settlement activities and a two-state solution -- a Palestinian state living alongside an Israeli state. Netanyahu's response was to throw a monkey-wrench in the axle of the stalled peace process that would send it, according to a Palestinian Authority spokesman, back to "square one". While the White House welcomed the statement as "an important step forward", and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner lavishly praised it, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt considered it "a small step". Netanyahu threw a bone to the Palestinians to appear as having responded positively to the Obama challenge.
More importantly, Netanyahu's eyesight was set on his settler right-wing partners in the Knesset. He assured them that his envisioned Palestinian state would be castrate: it would be demilitarised, with no symbols of sovereignty, would not interfere with Israeli settlements in the West Bank which is the historical land of Israel, would have no right to any part of Jerusalem, "the eternal and undivided capital of Israel", and could only be established if the Israeli wish-list of security guarantees is met, if the Palestinians recognise Israel as the state of the Jewish people where the indigenous Palestinian population would live in Bantustans, and if the problem of the 1948 Palestinian refugees, who became homeless as a consequence of the creation of the state of Israel is resolved outside Israel in denial of their right of return. The response was an updated version of Ariel Sharon's 25 May 2003 response to the roadmap of the Quartet. Netanyahu believes he has thrown the ball back into Obama's court.
To start with, Prime Minister Netanyahu seems to have cleverly climbed out of the hole into which he and his Likud partners had dug themselves regarding the settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and without compromising Israel's settler colonialism strategy. It would now seem that, by pronouncing the magic word "Palestinian state", Israel has finally joined three other partners calling for the same thing: the Arab states with their 2002 Arab peace initiative, the Quartet with the much- trumpeted roadmap, and the Obama administration's advocacy of the two-state solution on which the creation of the state of Israel was originally based, according to the 1947 UN Partition Plan. There are also the Palestinians with whom the Israeli government will have to negotiate.
The Obama administration and the European Union have commended Netanyahu for his act of magnanimity in acknowledging that the Palestinians deserve a state, albeit with restrictions. However, there are many ways to skin that cat. Netanyahu's way is to give the Palestinians a non-state piece of territory, pock-marked by Israeli settlements, with no powers of sovereignty, no right to conclude alliances, overall Israeli control of every aspect of national life, except -- perhaps -- for garbage collection and issuing parking tickets. On the other hand, the Arab peace initiative promised Israel recognition, full normal relations, and end of all claims arising from the conflict. It also included the inalienable right of return for Palestinian refugees. Netanyahu said that this problem would have to be settled outside of Israel. Additionally, the Palestinians will have to recognise Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, with all its implications for the indigenous Palestinian population and the right of return.
Recognition by the US and other supporters of Netanyahu's announcement could be a measured response to his acknowledgement of the two-state solution as the prognosis for the end of the conflict, not a blessing of his agenda. His extremist plan is inconsistent with all international resolutions, initiatives, plans or negotiations undertaken since the conflict began. Progressive US support of outrageous and illegal Israeli actions against the Palestinians in the occupied territories has muddied a lot of water and Netanyahu and company is fishing in it. While the Bush-Sharon understandings were celebrated by Israel as the golden age of Israeli expansionism, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently denied there was any understanding with the Bush administration regarding the so-called "natural growth" of illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank -- an added pressure on Netanyahu. It was therefore appropriate for President Barack Obama to characterise US-Israeli relations as "close, but not frank" and to set the course straight.
In these muddied waters fallacies became realities and facts obscured. The hard fact of the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by force, as stipulated in UN Security Council Resolution 242, was relegated to the background. At the bidding of Sharon, occupied Arab territories were conveniently renamed "disputed territories", the building of Israeli settlements which all countries, including the US, condemned as far back as 1975 as "illegal and an obstacle to peace" continued to grow unchecked, occupied East Jerusalem was annexed and declared the indivisible and eternal capital of Israel, Palestinian land was systematically confiscated for the building of settlements, hundreds of thousands of Jews were imported into and settled on Palestinian territories while Palestinian refugees were denied their right of return and the occupied West Bank became the historical land of Israel. Israel grew into a militaristic state that continuously sought expansion and domination, not peace, killed the Palestinians and threatened its neighbours. For every criminal act of terrorism it committed it offered a flimsy justification that the US quickly embraced. Israel, not Iran, is a rogue state that is completely out of line, sitting on hundreds of nuclear weapons that its Western allies never question, posing a threat to the region while it speaks peace from the other side of its mouth. It needs to be reigned in.
Prime Minister Netanyahu did not offer anything in his speech that the Palestinians or other Arabs could build on. He was more interested in outmanoeuvring Obama and appeasing his rabid expansionist coalition partners than in a genuine settlement of the conflict. Playing for time while carrying on with its agenda has long been Israel's game. Israel's bluff needs to be called if any serious peace negotiations for a final settlement are to start.
The extremist Likud government of Netanyahu has been softly pressured to step out of its radical ideology and acknowledge, grudgingly, that the Palestinians may have a state of sorts. The principle still needs to be fleshed out within its relevant international context and not be left to the moral standards of horse thief marauders. Israel was created by the sword and continues to live by the sword, under US protection. The Netanyahu government has added a stumbling block to progress towards peace by insisting on the recognition of Israel as the exclusive Jewish state of the Jewish people, with other non-Jewish (Palestinian) populations living in Bantustans under an apartheid regime. Even former US president Harry S Truman, the godfather of the state of Israel at creation, rejected the concept of a Jewish state. It is time all those interested in a peaceful Middle East region went back to basics. The concept of a two- state solution is flawed and should go back to the drawing board.
* The writer is former Al-Ahram correspondent in Washington, DC. He also served as director of United Nations Radio and Television in New York.