Thursday, May 21, 2009

Barry Rubin's Take

Part One: Obama

On Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, Obama said it was in everyone's interest "to achieve a two-state solution in which Israelis and Palestinians are living side by side in peace and security."

I think the way this was phrased is very important. The great majority of Israelis can agree-even Netanyahu, in my opinion, would do so-that a two-state solution that really worked would be a good outcome.

The problem is that most Israelis don't believe at this point that a two-state solution would work because the Palestinian Authority, Fatah, Hamas, Iran, Syria, Hizballah and other forces either would ensure it never came about in the first place or would be quickly destabilized.

So the way Obama put it-and it was deliberate-is not in contradiction to Israeli views and interests.

Note also how he phrased his discussion of something else:

"Those obligations [of both sides] were outlined in the road map; they were discussed extensively in Annapolis."

Remember that Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman was criticized for saying that Israel adhered to the road map but not to Annapolis. This position accepts that view. The road map presents the obligations; Annapolis is non-binding, a mere discussion. That phrasing was very deliberate.

And then of course Obama added that everyone should seize this opportunity for progress and mentioned five specific points, a list weighted in Israel's favor: assures Israel's security, stops terrorism and rocket attacks, and economic development for the Palestinians (which is Netanyahu's emphasis) along with having an independent Palestinian state.

Indeed, Obama went even further in accommodating Netanyahu's standpoint. He did not only-despite what I have read in some analyses-talk about Israeli concessions or obligations but also very much about Palestinian ones, his:

"Recognition that the Palestinians are going to have to do a better job providing the kinds of security assurances that Israelis would need to achieve a two-state solution; that the leadership of the Palestinians will have to gain additional legitimacy and credibility with their own people, and delivering services. And that's something that the United States and Israel can be helpful in seeing them accomplish."

This is something extremely important and he even said that he would convey this point to Mahmoud Abbas, leader of the PA, when he visited Washington.

On Israel's side he said settlements have to be stopped-though there are no new settlements or expanding of settlements in territorial terms, a point that often is forgotten. There has to be reconstruction of Gaza along with an end to rocket attacks, which means a loosening of border controls.

This is not so difficult for Israel to accomplish: close down some outposts, remove new settlement efforts, and revise the border controls on Gaza. These are all things Netanyahu is quite prepared to do to maintain good relations with the United States.

Another important point on which Obama just doesn't get it because of lack of knowledge about the Middle East regards linkage:

"To the extent that we can make peace with the Palestinians -- between the Palestinians and the Israelis, then I actually think it strengthens our hand in the international community in dealing with a potential Iranian threat....Imagine how much less mischief a Hezbollah or a Hamas could do if in fact we had moved a Palestinian-Israeli track in a direction that gave the Palestinian people hope. And if Hezbollah and Hamas is weakened, imagine how that impacts Iran's ability to make mischief, and vice versa."

As I have explained elsewhere, such efforts would actually strengthen Iran, Hizballah and Hamas because any compromise agreement-even assuming such a thing were to be possible-would inflame radicalism. Again, failing to understand that, Obama doesn't get the Middle East....Yet, at least.

Overall, though, the meeting was a success. It is important to emphasize that this was not just true on the atmospherics or the surface. Obama's original ideology and the original intentions of his administration have been modified by taking into account Israel's views and interests as well as some touch of reality about the region.

In other respects, it has not been so modified. The needle has moved from "catastrophic" to "very bad" on the region in general, and from "confrontational" to "pretty good" on the bilateral U.S.-Israel front. The rest depends on whether the administration insists on putting the priority on its ideas or on its experiences in future.

Part 2: Netanyahu

B. Israel-Palestinian Negotiations

On this issue, Netanyahu stressed his eagerness to cooperate, his “desire to move the peace process forward.” Indeed, he was ready to move very fast: “And I want to start peace negotiations with the Palestinians immediately. I would like to broaden the circle of peace to include others in the Arab world, if we could….”

Here came Netanyahu’s most quoted lines, which should be quoted fully:

“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, absent a handful of powers that could endanger the state of Israel. And for this there has to be a clear goal. The goal has to be an end to conflict. There will have to be compromises by Israelis and Palestinians alike. We’re ready to do our share. We hope the Palestinians will do their share, as well. If we resume negotiations, as we plan to do, then I think that the Palestinians will have to recognize Israel as a Jewish state; will have to also enable Israel to have the means to defend itself. And if those conditions are met, Israel’s security conditions are met, and there’s recognition of Israel’s legitimacy, its permanent legitimacy, then I think we can envision an arrangement where Palestinians and Israelis live side by side in dignity, in security, and in peace.”

Here is Netanyahu’s view of the two-state solution. If the Palestinians meet Israeli conditions, then there will be the “side by side” arrangement Obama has raised.

This is critical: a two-state solution is not something given as a present at the beginning of negotiations, it is a reward for the proper compromises that enable such a peace to succeed.

That is the key point of the Israeli position, regarding not just Netanyahu but in practice across much of the political spectrum.

Netanyahu fully recognizes the interrelationship of issues and says both are important:

“It would help, obviously, unite a broad front against Iran if we had peace between Israel and the Palestinians. And conversely, if Iran went nuclear, it would threaten the progress towards peace and destabilize the entire area, and threaten existing peace agreement.”

And so he concludes, “We see exactly eye to eye on this—that we want to move simultaneously and then parallel on two fronts: the front of peace, and the front of preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear capability.”

Many might view this as papering over differences but it really isn’t. The point Netanyahu makes is that the two countries agree in principle whatever differences there are on details. And after all, this is the same basic position Obama has stated, though there is a bit of reversal on apparent priorities.

And then Netanyahu raises another key Israeli point: It is quite possible to make things far worse:

“If we end up with another Gaza -- the President has described to you there’s rockets falling out of Gaza -- that is something we don’t want to happen, because a terror base next to our cities that doesn’t call -- recognize Israel’s existence and calls for our destruction and asks for our destruction is not arguing peace.

“If, however, the Palestinians recognize Israel as the Jewish state, if they -- if they fight terror, if they educate their children for peace and to a better future, then I think we can come at a substantive solution that allows the two people to live side by side in security and peace and I add prosperity, because I’m a great believer in this.”

What is the point, after all, of pushing through a two-state solution which:

--Makes Palestine a radical Islamist state tied to Iran and Syria.

--Creates a Palestine in which every school, mosque, and media institution teaches Palestinians that all of Israel is theirs and they must strive to conquer it. This would be a Palestine full of incitement to violence against Israelis which will inspire scores of people to become terrorists and thousands of others to support them.

--Sets off a new Israel-Palestine cross-border war, with the Palestine government either looking the other way or actively assisting terrorists.

--Creates a Palestine that invites in Iranian, Syrian, or other armies, or gets missiles from them targeted at Israeli cities.

--Extends the conflict another generation by using the state as a base for a “second stage” to finish off Israel.
And if Israel were to take risks and make concessions will they be reciprocated? And if the United States and Europe makes promises to Israel will they be kept?

After all, the 1990s’ peace process taught Israelis the answer was “no” on both counts.

This is Israel’s central point: peace, yes, but only a real, lasting, and stable situation which makes things better rather than worse.

A two-state solution only if it isn’t a two-mistake anti-solution.

I don't agree with all above, but it's a nice read.

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