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Netanyahu steps up demands, wants settlers to remain in Palestinian state

The Israeli prime minister tells reporters he wouldn’t ‘uproot’ a single Israeli. Netanyahu’s office later explains that the object of the new demand is to score points against the Palestinian Authority by ‘exposing its real face.’

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet in Jerusalem, June 27, 2013. (State Dept. Photo)

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet in Jerusalem, June 27, 2013. (State Dept. Photo)

A couple of statements from Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu are adding to the confusion over the kind of solution he envisions, if he supports one at all.

Answering a question from a reporter in Davos regarding the possible evacuation of Jordan Valley settlements – Israel seeks to keep IDF forces along the Jordan River even after any withdrawal – Netanyahu said that he “wouldn’t uproot a single Israeli” as part of a peace deal.

Haaretz, which was the first to report the comment, used caution, allowing readers to understand that Netanyahu might have referred to the settlements in the Jordan Valley, and not the evacuation of any settlement. Yesterday (Sunday), however, Israel Hayom, which keeps its reporting in line with the prime minister’s spin at all times, used the broad interpretation, allowing readers to understand that Netanyahu will not forcefully evacuate settlers regardless of their location.

Later that day came a sort of explanation, when a source in the Prime Minister’s Office, who spoke on condition of anonymity but on the record, told the Israeli media that Netanyahu would like settlers to have the option to remain in the settlements after the establishment of a Palestinian state. The source didn’t explain what arrangement Netanyahu envisioned for the settlers: whether they would remain under Israeli control or accept Palestinian sovereignty.

Sure enough, the settlers were quick to attack the prime minister for his latest “capitulation.” That’s part of Israel’s political theater: no matter how hawkish the government is, there will always be someone to its right. The truth is that it doesn’t really matter. In previous weeks Netanyahu has raised just about any possible idea that could make the notion of a Palestinian state meaningless. First it was the demand for Israeli to be recognized “as a Jewish state” (rather than to just recognize the State of Israel); then it was a long-term IDF presence in the Jordan Valley – which would turn the Palestinian state into an enclave inside Israel; then came the introduction of a new settlement bloc that should be annexed to Israel (in the greater Ramallah area); then the rejection of any territorial compromise in Jerusalem; and now, finally, the idea of leaving the settlers inside a Palestinian state. I’ve lost count of the “principles” and “core values” Netanyahu would have to abandon if he is actually ever to sign a deal.

As with the rest of his ideas, this latest one is not something Netanyahu came up with on his own. One-staters have offered alternative models for solutions that considered leaving the settlements where they are, but that was always part of bigger picture – one that would restrict Palestinian access to the rest of the land.

Netanyahu isn’t interested in any of this, of course. He would like to leave the settlers as a time bomb inside the Palestinian state – a community that will cause the kind of mayhem which would eventually force the IDF to take over the territory. It is worth remembering how Netanyahu boasted about finding loopholes that helped him derail the Oslo process. There is no reason to think that his have tactics changed that much. But all this is just a theoretical exercise; Netanyahu will not agree to a viable Palestinian state, with or without settlers. Today, answering Naftali Bennett, the Prime Minister’s Office practically explained that the new demand is about scoring points against the Palestinians, and not much else.

No Israeli prime minister has ever suggested the Palestinians receive a full state on pre-1967 borders. Not even Olmert, though he probably came the closest, in his lame duck days (it’s worth reading Nathan Thrall’s summary at NYRB on this issue, which is based, among other things, on Elliott Abrams’s recent book). But Netanyahu is probably the furthest away from the idea. He isn’t even negotiating with the Palestinians, but rather with the U.S. (and indirectly, with Europe). His goal is to reach a deal that would lift mounting international pressure off of Israel at the lowest possible cost. In fact, negotiating forever is probably his best option, since Israel is basically given a free hand in the West Bank as long as the talks continue.

It is worth noting that while Netanyahu’s latest demand has no chance of being taken seriously outside the usual echo-chamber of Jerusalem’s domestic propaganda, such ideas continue to poison relations between Jews and Arabs in Israel; it treats Palestinian citizens of Israel – an indigenous minority – as equal to the settlers, who were relocated by Israel under military occupation and whose claims to the land are rejected even by Israel’s closest allies.

“Just as Israel has an Arab minority, there is no logical reason why the Palestinian state could not contain a Jewish minority and that Jews living in Judea and Samaria would be given the option to stay,” said the source in the PMO to the press yesterday. Just like the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state or Avigdor Lieberman’s population swap plan, these ideas show that in the eyes of the Israeli government, Palestinian citizenship in Israel is always contested.

Peace groups should criticize Kerry too
The only two-state solution that might work

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    1. Kolumn9

      Bibi has theoretically just raised an idea that would grant the Palestinians their demand for a state on the 1967 lines and the complaint is that such a state might have a Jewish minority?

      Reply to Comment
      • Sarah

        I think the Palestinians could agree on condition that they can treat the settlers in the same way we Israelis treat the Palestinians. Then the Palestinians should claim – as we do – that they have the most “moral army in the world”.

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9

          They can treat the Jewish citizens of their state the same way Israel treats its Arab citizens. That would only be fair.

          Reply to Comment
          • andrew r

            When the PA starts confiscating the property of Jewish citizens and demolishing outposts (“the same way Israel treats its Arab citizens”), you’ll support an IDF invasion to recapture the West Bank. I bet rent money on it.

            Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            Indeed, the question is likely ‘when’, rather than ‘if’ the Palestinian state starts confiscating the property of its Jewish citizens before expelling them. It would be following in the footsteps of every other Arab state in doing so. It appears that you very much know what kind of a state that will be even if you would rather pretend otherwise.

            Reply to Comment
          • andrew r

            “It would be following in the footsteps of every other Arab state in doing so.”

            Jewish property was not confiscated by Lebanon, Morocco or Tunisia. The small Jewish community in Bahrain hasn’t been dispossessed, either.

            Reply to Comment
      • hdave

        Wait, where did he say anything about the 67 lines?? He didn’t, he still wants all the big chunks of important land with the aquifiers and stuff – ariel, maale aduminum, EJ he just gets rid of a few lunatics on hilltops at the same time. There is no way Netanyahu will ever offer 67 lines. In fact he calls them the auschwitz borders, you’re deluded if you think that’s what he’s saying

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9

          You make one of those arguments that presume that Bibi “will never” blah blah blah. These are boring because they are just an expression of your biases.

          What we do have here is an idea that was brought up that potentially opens up the possibility of 1967 lines. So far the complaints have centered around the idea that the Palestinian State might then have a Jewish minority, which would apparently be problematic and constitute “a time bomb”. One wonders if talking about the Arab citizens of Israel as a “time bomb” would be considered acceptable on 972mag and if so, then why are we not talking about moving the border over as many of them as possible to the Palestinian State.

          Reply to Comment
      • Eric

        You should make the Difference between ISRAELIS and JEWS in General. And when Abbas or anybody else talks about this, he is always referring to Israeli Settlers, not Jews per se.

        Reply to Comment
    2. richard witty

      I agree with column on this.

      This makes the issue around grappling for expanded borders much less important in the negotiations.

      This is the elimination of an obstacle, not the construction of one.

      Reply to Comment
      • Richard Witty

        Also, for Netanyahu, this is the first phase of his walking away from likud, and his current coalition.

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9

          He is probably working under the assumption that the Palestinians have already decided to reject the Kerry framework.

          The Palestinians have previously suggested a similar formulation, so their (and their allies’) explicit rejection appears to be more of a knee-jerk reaction to anything Bibi might propose than principled opposition. It would reinforce the analysis that the Palestinians have already decided to reject the Kerry framework and are interested in painting Bibi as unreasonable even if he proposes otherwise constructive ideas.

          Noam’s bias in opposing any agreement should be taken into account when reading his analysis of Bibi’s ideas.

          Reply to Comment
        • brenda

          thanks, Richard. It’s a pleasure and a relief to run across someone else who is optimistic about the resolution of the I-P conflict during this round of talks. That is the way I’m reading the tea leaves also, though I would imagine with far less background than you have.

          Reply to Comment
    3. As Ben-Gurion stated once:
      “The acceptance of partition does not commit us to renounce Transjordan;one does not demand from anybody to give up his vision. We shall accept a state in the boundaries fixed today, but the boundaries of Zionist aspirations are the concern of the Jewish people and no external factor will be able to limit them.”
      High time “the Jewish people” make up their mind, do “they” want to be responsible for what is going to happen here?

      Reply to Comment
    4. Philos

      Don’t feed the hasbara trolls, guys. I know it’s tempting but don’t do it. BDS is working.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Tony Riley

      The elephant in 972’s room, is that most Israeli Arabs don’t want to be “Palestinians”. Can any of you smart folk explain that fact away?

      Reply to Comment
      • mike panzone

        not too hard to figure out really…israel is where their homes are.

        Reply to Comment
        • The Trespasser

          Apparently, too hard for same.

          The offer was to transfer territory, including inhabitants and their property.

          Reply to Comment
    6. Mike panzone

      If jewish settlers get to stay in the west bank, then the palestinian refugees should be allowed to return to israel.

      Reply to Comment
      • Marcos

        Thanks so much, I like reading foolish comments.

        Reply to Comment
        • mike panzone

          as foolish a comment as netanyahu’s suggestion to let the settlers remain in the west bank

          Reply to Comment
    7. The Trespasser

      >He isn’t even negotiating with the Palestinians,

      What Palestinians? Bibi should visit each Palestinian city, village and refugee camp and negotiate with crowds there?

      Abbas & Co. are not legitimate because a) no elections were held for 8 years, b) they represent probably less than 1/3 of all Palestinian Arabs residing in Palestine – West Bank and Gaza, which is the reason why no elections were held, let alone refugees and c) lack of will to sign anything at PA side, due to well-founded fear losing power.

      Hamas is not particularly regitimate for similar reasons plus their charter does no provide for negotiation with the Zionist Entity.

      Who else? Islamic Jihad? Hizbullah?

      So who Bibi should talk to, to reach a agreement binding for all?

      >but rather with the U.S. (and indirectly, with Europe)

      Which makes sense, since Palestinians are on USA and EU payroll.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Joel

      I think that Bibi has noticed the black flag of al-Qaeda now flying over Falluja.

      All of America’s efforts to free Iraq of jihadis and to set up a strong stable government there have come to naught.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Yehuda David

      can’t see why this is wrong:
      Seems to me that your own magazine, as well as your favorite columnist (Gideon Levi), endorse (or at least are not afraid of) the one-state-solution.
      So what seems to be the problem with Netanyahu’s demand that Jews live side-by-side with Palestinians in that one-state?

      Reply to Comment
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