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17 באפריל 2024
The Likudnik in English

Netanyahu’s real and failed negotiating strategy

The Jerusalem Post blog

For the original article, press here




Figuring out what Prime Minster Binyamin Netanyahu actually thinks about the peace process has become increasingly difficult over the years. He once criticized the Oslo Accords so powerfully that he himself was accused of inciting Rabin’s assassination. In A Place Among the Nations, he called Palestinian goals of self-determination a “Trojan Horse.” In his first stint as Prime Minister, however, he confirmed the Oslo Accords by signing the Wye Accords and the Hebron Protocols. Then, in 2002, Netanyahu told the Likud’s Central Committee that “[t]he biggest mistake that can be made is to promise [to the Palestinians] the establishment of their own independent state.” But shortly into his second term as Prime Minister he endorsed it.



So what exactly does Netanyahu think about a Palestinian state? Is he only participating in the peace process due to pressure but secretly has other plans? Or, are his previous hawkish statements merely those of a politician rallying his base to win elections? A candid video which aired not so long ago on Channel 10’s “The Week with Mickey Rosenthal” may provide the answer, but not much comfort. The video reveals a Netanyahu participating in the process only to sabotage it, but ignorant of his failure to do so. Worse yet, he continues to pursue the same failed strategy today.

The video was recorded during the Second Intifada only a few months after Sharon became Prime Minister. Netanyahu is visiting the home of a woman who lost her son and husband in separate terrorist attacks. With her are friends and family, including another woman who lost her daughter in a terrorist attack. Sitting in the living room, the group makes many complaints to Netanyahu about the Israeli response to terror, but it isn’t until the camera is turned off that Netanyahu really begins to talk. Unbeknownst to him, the camera was turned back on a few moments later.


Netanyahu agrees with the participants that the Oslo Accords were a tragedy, says the Palestinians “want us in the sea”

and that Arafat “wants a big settlement – called Tel Aviv.” Most importantly, he claims that he only permitted the Hevron withdrawals to sabotage the entire peace process.  

Netanyahu explains his strategy in negotiations as follows: The Oslo Accords speak of military zones which Israel would retain control of and “in my opinion, the entire Jordan River Valley is a security zone.” Before authorizing the Hevron Withdrawals, Netanyahu demanded a letter from the US Secretary of State Warren Christopher, stating that Israel alone can determine what are secure military zones and their size. Upon receiving the letter, Netanyahu authorized the withdrawals. “In that very moment I actually stopped the Oslo Agreement,” Netanyahu says. He claims he “gave two percent, in place of giving 100 percent.”

If Netanyahu was really being candid, the video paints a picture of a biblical Aaron-like figure who does not desire the building of the Golden Calf but participates nonetheless aiming to sabotage the whole process. (Recall that Aaron did not succeed in stopping the building of the Calf, and Moses rebuked him harshly).

This would also explain Netanyahu’s endorsement of a Palestinian state in his address at Bar-Ilan University in June 2009. There he extolled the Jewish historical connection to the country, and said that the Palestinian state must be demilitarized, listing many restrictions on its powers (no military, no full control of airspace or imports, or full treaty powers).


This revelation of Netanyahu’s thinking should come as relief to those of us within the Likud who actually adhere to the

party’s stated goal of “advocate[ing]… for the integrity of the homeland,” and “[s]afeguarding the right of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel as an eternal, inalienable right, working diligently to settle and develop all parts of the land of Israel, and extending national sovereignty to them”(Likud Constitution, Art. II).



But if this is indeed Netanyahu’s real strategy, there is not much room for rejoicing, as Netanyahu is following a strategy

that has already failed. Despite his claims in the video, Netanayahu failed to sabotage the Oslo Accords. He merely confirmed the process and kept it moving, so that Prime Minister Ehud Barak was able to offer Arafat up to 97 percent of the disputed territories. Thus, Netanyahu did not give “two-percent in place of giving 100 percent” but gave up a very important two-percent and paved the way for a 97 percent offer.



By chance, Arafat did not accept Barak’s offer, but stormed out of Camp David to orchestrate an unprecedented terror war 

against Israel – in which thousands were killed. Had Netanyahu taken a stronger stand from the moment he took office, as unpopular as it may have been, it is possible that the terrorists would not have had the next four to five years to arm themselves and plan the Second Intifada.


As for the letter Netanyahu received from Christopher, it did not sink the process, but became a footnote of history. A similar scenario played out regarding an exchange of letters between Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and President Bush regarding the Disengagement. Sharon presented the Disengagement plan to Bush, and in exchange received a letter stating that Israel should retain major settlement blocs (“In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers… 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”). The next US administration, however, ignored the letter calling all settlements “illegitimate.”



By the time Netanyahu took office the second time, over a decade and a half of uninterrupted official Israeli support for the two-state solution bore down heavily on him. Even the American right came to endorse the two-state solution. The details, the letters, the footnotes, the clauses and limitations were irrelevant. The reality that Hamas’s democratic and military takeover of Gaza makes any agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority impossible – this too was, and continues to be ignored by all.



When faced with American pressure from a new administration, Netanyahu again responded with his failed strategy. He endorsed a Palestinian state and froze settlement building – in order to side-step those issues – and, like a careful lawyer, disclaimed many essential points with his insistence on demilitarization. As in his first term, he focused on the fine print in almost reckless disregard for the primary terms.



Netanyahu was not the first to endorse a limited Palestinian state. The Oslo Accords themselves don’t grant the Palestinians a “state” – leaving all such issues to future negotiations. Rabin himself told the Knesset the Palestinian state would not be a real state, but “an entity which is less than a state, and which will independently run the lives of the



Palestinians under its authority.” Sharon too attempted this when his government endorsed the Road Map in 2002 (a time when he had maximum diplomatic leverage to refuse). That endorsement included a list of reservations similar to those Netanyahu listed in his own endorsement of a Palestinian state in 2009. It may be that no Prime Minister since Oslo, perhaps including Ehud Barak, has yet envisioned granting the Palestinians a full-fledged state.



But like the Christopher and Bush letters, none of those matter. They have all faded into oblivion. The only thing that does matter, which will remain and be remembered is the term “state.” And when people say “state”, they mean a state as international law defines: a sovereign entity in control of its territory, borders, immigration, airspace, which can make treaties and have a military. This is what the entire world, including the Palestinians expect. Even if the Palestinians are forced to accept a “demilitarized” state, a short while after they will demand the full privileges of statehood, which will be due to them by virtue of having a “state.” When that happens, Israel will be helpless to control the results. A state is a state, and all the fine print Netanyahu and other Prime Ministers insist on will simply not matter.

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