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Netanyahu: Two-state solution is off the table, kinda

The Israeli prime minister moves closer than ever to officially declaring an end to the two-state solution. He doesn’t say it explicitly, but there are only so many eulogies a political paradigm can sustain before it expires. 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at Bar-Ilan University. (Photo Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at Bar-Ilan University. (Photo Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday announced that his  commitment to a demilitarized Palestinian state alongside Israel was no longer relevant.

The statement was released by the prime minister’s Likud party following the circulation of a synagogue newsletter, which catalogued the different parties’ stances on a Palestinian state. The newsletter claimed the prime minister announced that his 2009 Bar Ilan speech, where he made the commitment, was “null and void,” and emphasized that Netanyahu’s entire political biography was “opposition to the Palestinian state.”

After initially attributing the comment to MK Tzipi Hotovely and denying she represented anyone’s position but her own, the Likud changed tack Sunday evening. “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that in the present situation in the Middle East, any vacated territory will be immediately overtaken by radical Islam and terrorist organizations sponsored by Iran,” a party statement read. “For this reason, there will be no withdrawals and no concessions, this is simply irrelevant.”

Netanyahu has already made comments that amount to a practical rejection of a sovereign Palestinian state — most notably last summer, when he stressed that he does not see a scenario in which the IDF no longer maintains a presence in the West Bank. But between them, the two statements could amount to the first time since the Bar-Ilan speech that Netanyahu and the Likud outright rejected the very notion of Palestinian statehood. It is certainly being interpreted as a  of policy by many Israel-watchers.

These Israel-watchers are almost certainly jumping the gun.The new statement allows the prime minister considerable leeway: if he ever desires to get on board with yet another American attempt at a peace process, or to outmaneuver his rightist allies by swinging toward the center, Netanyahu could still stress the semantic difference between the comments attributed to Hotovely and those attributed to him. While Hotovely rejected the Palestinian state outright, Netanyahu’s statement on Sunday did not mention a Palestinian state, and did not say it is off the agenda. Rather, the latest Netanyahu statement says that the current regional situation makes a mockery of any plan to withdraw IDF forces from any territory. At the moment, however, his comment reads more like a reiteration of Hotovely’s statement than a modification of it, and for good reason.

(Update: Netanyahu’s Prime Minister’s Office has since denied that he made the second part of the statement released by Netanyahu’s own Likud party, but reinforced the first part of the statement. In other words, the prime minister is sticking by his explanation of why he won’t concede any territory in the West Bank, he just isn’t explicitly following through and saying he won’t do it.)

The context in which both statements should be read  is Israel’s looming general election, and Netanyahu’s increasing shift of attention away from his challengers on the center-left, Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni, and toward his main rival on the Right, Naftali Bennett. For the past few weeks, Netanyahu and Bennett have been locked in an increasingly tight, and occasionally petty, tug-of-war, with each trying to scrape a seat or two from the other. (Even Netanyahu’s insistence on making the Iran speech in Congress last week owes something to this tactical rivalry: his main aim in going through with the speech was not so much winning new seats as not losing any to Bennett.)

Netanyahu and Bennet are not actually polling anywhere near the same numbers — Likud consistently polls at 23-24 seats compared to Bennett’s 12-13. But both leaders vehemntly argue that one or two more seats for either party can make all the difference. Netanyahu claims that a vote for Bennett reduces the odds of a outright Likud victory and increases the chances of a Labor-led government. Bennett claims that without a strong showing for his Jewish Home party, Netanyahu will reach out to the Zionist Union and pivot Israel sharply back toward Oslo.

This argument came to a head late last week with the release of old negotiating documents allegedly demonstrating Netanyahu’s readiness to agree to pre-’67 borders with mutually agreed land swaps. While the Israeli public did not seem immediately impressed — the negotiations, after all, ended in a failure, and what is an old piece of paper next to Netanyahu’s emphatic and well-publicized intransigence on the Palestinian front? — Bennett went all in.

On Friday, Bennett published a passionate Facebook post, saying that “the document is real,” and that a coalition with Labor would put Israel was on the brink of a disastrous withdrawal from the West Bank. Only a strong Jewish Home can pull it from the brink. Only the Jewish Home, he concluded, has explicitly opposed any kind of a Palestinian state. Netanyahu’s decision to go with, rather than against, Hotovely’s comments made to an obscure synagogue newsletter, reflects his fear of being decisively outflanked by Bennet just over a week before the elections. Whatever else, Bennett’s monopoly on open opposition to Palestinian statehood has been broken.

All this should be taken with a pinch of salt: Labor has been in most right-wing coalitions since 2000, and has never affected the peace process one iota. In fact, it served as fig leaf for Ariel Sharon’s dismantlement of the Oslo accords’ meager accomplishments. The current incarnation of Labor, the Zionist Camp, does not even pretend to have the peace process on its agenda, and Herzog is taking great pains to sound as similar to Netanyahu as possible. A pivot toward partition is as unlikely in such a coalition as it would be in another Netanyahu-Bennet government, which is also a very reasonable scenario.Election banner - newMoreover, in every conceivable practical sense, the two-state solution is already dead and rotting, with Netanyahu having driven whatever nails remained into its coffin over the last five years of his premiership. The solution exists solely as an article of faith, which is why an official declaration of its demise by one or more parties to the conflict can seem like a big deal.

In a simpler world, Netanyahu’s statement would be answered with Mahmoud Abbas slamming the proverbial keys on the table and inviting Netanyahu to come up with an alternative. In reality, the only thing that sustains the incumbent Palestinian leadership is the notion that an independent Palestinian state is still possible. So barring a spontaneous implosion (triggered, for instance, by Israel overplaying its hand in withholding Palestinian tax money), the Palestinian Authority will continue hankering for a two-state solution long after the Israeli leadership has walked away.

So even if Netanyahu was as unequivocal as he purports to be, his comments are not likely to make a great difference in the short term.

What Sunday’s statement can do, however, is to feed the incremental but accelerating process of airing alternatives to partition. If Netanyahu does not get on board with the Nth American negotiation proposal there will, over time, be more and more space for propositions on what the Israeli endgame in the Occupied Territories should be, sans two-state solution.

It’s not very likely such a proposal will come from Netanyahu himself — he, after all, has made it his policy to operate on the basis of the status quo, not constraining himself with any long-term commitments. Still, his statement on Sunday, especially if taken at face value by a sufficient number of people, can help drive Israeli political discourse further toward not only ignoring the two state paradigm, but actually replacing it.

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    1. Brian

      Your choice about those “gaps.” (See below.) Everyone knows the recipe for a peaceful and respectful solution. But you just gotta have those “gaps.” Your choice.

      In light of former Mossad chief Meir Dagan’s recent criticism of Netanyahu, journalist Amnon Abramovich said on Friday that a great majority of former senior defense officials believe, like Dagan, that Israel’s lack of action regarding the Palestinians is accelerating the emergence of a nightmarish binational state. This opinion is apparently shared by most current security officials. Even if most of the IDF brass doubt a permanent status agreement with the Palestinians is possible (in light of the wide gaps between the two sides), it can clearly be seen that they are fully aware of the basic strategic reality Israel is dealing with….

      Reply to Comment
      • Jello

        Dagan is a straight shooter. Amram Abramovich has no credibility whatsoever. He is a completely biased hack that would say absolutely anything to hurt Bibi and has previously admitted as such.

        Reply to Comment
    2. Pedro X

      A new I24 News poll shows Likud at 26 seats, Zionist Camp at 21 and Jewish Home at 13. Four out of the last five polls I viewed showed Likud and Zionist Camp running neck and neck. It will be interesting to see if other polls identify a surging Likud and a falling Zionist Party. If the left wants to give Herzog and Livni a chance to form government they need to abandon Meretz to oblivion and vote for the Zionist Camp.

      The problem for the left is that their campaign is not to elect Herzog and Livni but to unseat Netanyahu. Meanwhile the right gets to hammer home security issues. With Netanyahu saying that this is not the time to establish an independent Palestinian state is not only correct but it is politically correct for a right wing Prime Minister seeking re-election. There is no chance of a demilitarized Palestinian state. Abbas has no desire to disarm Hamas. There are few Israelis who would not agree that the establishment of a Palestinian state coupled with a withdrawal of Israeli troops from Judea and Samaria would result in terrorists from Fatah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Iran, Hezbollah and who knows who else sitting on the other side of the green line attacking central Israel. Gaza is already a terrorist state. Hezbollah, a terrorist entity, sits on the Lebanese border with Israel. Iran and Hezbollah sit on the border to the Golan Heights. There is no need to give terrorists the hills and mountains of Judea and Samaria to carry out murderous attacks.

      We have seen this movie before. Bill Clinton convinced Rabin and Peres to allow the return of not only Arafat and his band of merry thieves and thugs but also 415 members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad to the West Bank and Gaza. Guess what the terrorists did with their new proximity to the Israeli public. 22 years of terrorism. Israel left Gaza and has had nearly 20,000 rockets fired at its civilian centers since then. It has had to fight 3 wars to contain the violence from Gaza. Why would Israel take any further risks. Even Tzipi Livni said that an agreement with the Palestinians would not result in peace. Terrorism would continue. So what is the incentive to Israel surrender Judea and Samaria for occupation of multiple terrorist entities bent on the destruction of Israel?

      Reply to Comment
    3. Brian

      Anyone with a Haaretz subscription should read this. Rogel Alpher on Elie Wiesel. Wiesel has become kitsch in my opinion (the first half explains why; the second half I provide here).


      “…What were you doing there, Elie Wiesel? Netanyahu is my prime minister. You are not an Israeli citizen. You do not live here. The Iranian threat to destroy Israel does not apply to you. You are a Jew who lives in America. This is not your problem. By what right did you stand there, using your reputation and your prestige, to try and influence the members of Congress to accept Netanyahu’s position on an issue that has nothing to do with you.

      If Israel’s future is so important to you, if the fate of Jerusalem matters so much to you, why do you not live here? Do you think that you and I have some shared fate because we are both Jews? Think again. Everything that happens to me here in Israel does not happen to you there in New York. Where do you get the right to interfere in my affairs? You have some nerve.

      I have to find a way to live here, Elie, with the Palestinians and the ultra-Orthodox, surrounded by Hezbollah and Hamas. And I have already written about how it seems to me that, over time, the chances of us creating a reasonable life here that is worth living are nil, and that I will have to leave the country.

      But as long as I am here, I do not need you or your help. You do not speak in my name. You do not represent me, and you do not know what is good for me. If you love Netanyahu so much, come live here. Come live here yourself, in the state that Netanyahu is shaping for us. And move all your assets and all your loved ones here. Until you do, get out of my life, Elie Wiesel.”

      Reply to Comment
      • Yeah, Right

        Well, take pity on the poor ol’ coot.

        This is a fact: Elie Wiesel got taken to the cleaners by Bernie Madhoff’s crazy Ponzie scheme, so what’s a poor guy to do? Retire to the poor house, or sell his reputation off to the highest bidder?

        The brand name “Elie Wiesel” is now a wholly-owned subsidiary of “America’s Rabbi, Inc”, and if Wiesel is told to stand *there* then he’ll be seen standing *there*, and if he is told to sign *this* then his signature will be found on *this*.

        It’s not as if Wiesel can afford to be fussy; after all, a girl’s gotta eat, right?

        Reply to Comment
      • Danny

        He’s a fraudster who’s made a fortune by writing about the holocaust, then lost it all to Bernie Madoff. Now he’s a paid mannequin for Sheldon Adelson, and shows up wherever his pay-master tells him to.

        Interestingly, he was sitting right next to suspected child rapist Alan Dershowitz, who is also a paid member of Adelson’s outfit.

        Reply to Comment
        • Yeah, Right

          No, not Adelston. Wiesel is now owned lock, stock and barrel by Shmuley Boteach.

          You only need a few minutes on Google to work that out.

          Before 2010? “Boteach” and “Wiesel” are never to be found in the same article, much less did Boteach claim to know what Wiesel’s thoughts were on any given topic.

          But Post 2010? Boteach can scarcely open his mouth before dropping Wiesel’s name, and he certainly does presume to be able to read Wiesel’s mind and know what he is thinking.

          So Boteach had no time for the ol’ coot pre-Ponzie scheme, but after Wiesel lost all his money Boteach suddenly “discovered” the Wisdom Of The Wiesel(tm).

          Mid-2010, it couldn’t be more stark.

          Reply to Comment
    4. Yeah, Right

      This is very obviously some Obama-inspired payback to Netanyahu, since the “leak” involves some American-sponsored position papers dating back to Kerry’s last hopeless effort at mediation.

      Netanyahu needs to be somewhat careful here, because repudiating that Bar-Ilan speech does give Obama an opening to do that which he swore he would not i.e. intervene in the Israeli election.

      After all, it is inconceivable that Netanyahu would have given that Bar-Ilan speech but for the Americans demanding that he give that commitment.

      And if he is now repudiating that, well, who knows?

      Obama probably won’t sink the boot into him but, then again, why bother leaking that document if you aren’t going to sink that boot?

      Reply to Comment
    5. Bruce Gould

      At some point – it may take another decade – the Palestinians are going to realize that they are never going to have their own state, not even if they all convert, wear yarmulkes and declare Israel the eternal home of the Jews. And hopefully the rest of the world will realize it as well. Contribute here:


      Reply to Comment
      • C.C. DeVille

        No thank you bitch. I’ll take a solution that does not insist on the elimination of Israel.

        Reply to Comment