By Raghid el-Solh
At the start of these direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, many questions were raised about the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu's, real position toward the negotiations and a political settlement between the Arabs and Israelis. By extension, similar questions were asked about the future of the negotiations in which the head of the Israeli government would play a most significant role.
Among these questions were those were asked by the Jerusalem Post notably, "Does Netanyahu have the ability and desire to extend the freeze on settlement at the end of this month? Does he have the desire or the ability to sign a settlement agreement that does not only demand the freeze, but also seeks to eliminate the settlements already in place?"
In discussing his desires and intentions, Israeli and other observers noted that it is very difficult to identify Netanyahu's true intentions. He was often accused, even by key ministers in his government, of cynicism and outright lies and his record is insufficient to refute the accusations. After multiple failures during the nineties, he announced his withdrawal from political life, but the withdrawal did not last long and he returned to his mercurial methods.
His initial arrival in the government in 1996 was a source of deep concern in the Arab and international community as he was deemed an ultra-extremist among Israelis. However, Netanyahu has sought to calm these negative fears by entering into negotiations with the Palestinians and signing the Wye River agreement in 1998. However, the signing of an agreement is one thing while sticking to it is something else entirely. He managed to extricate himself from its provisions before abandoning it completely as well as the negotiations with the Arabs. Later he was defeated by Ariel Sharon in the battle for the Likud leadership.
During this battle it seemed to be possible to get close to Netanyahu – the real him. At the time he published an article in the "Los Angeles Times" on 4th June 2002 under a title that implied a lot; "Success is only by military force". This article has been given significance because it came a few days after the launch of the Arab Peace Initiative which called for Israel to withdraw from the occupied Arab territories and to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. In his article, Netanyahu highlighted his criticism of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and the PLO, saying: "There is no hope of negotiation or signing of a peace treaty with them". Although Arafat had signed up to a series of agreements with successive Israeli governments, Netanyahu accused him of working toward swamping Israel with millions of Palestinians, which meant the "destruction" of Israel.
Given this approach, and the persistence of "Palestinian terrorism", Netanyahu believed that "there was only one option for Israel, which is to decisively win the war that was imposed on it". He criticized Sharon's government for not carrying out its duty, and of only half-hearted resorting to military measures against terrorists. While he stressed that these measures would not achieve the desired objective, i.e. the security of the Zionist state, he called on Israelis to stop taking account of the international community because it would not heal Israel from its illness, namely, "Arafat's regime".
Perhaps he was trying to embarrass Sharon who defeated him in the race for the Likud leadership, but none of what he said is out of character for the Israeli prime minister who was brought up by a father who was close to Vladimir Jabotinsky, and an activist in a group of revisionist Zionists. These attitudes are not curious for a man who grew up in the hawkish atmosphere of the Likud. Moreover, his attitude is not far off from the positions taken by all Israeli leaders, both Likud and Labour.
To those who believe they can achieve peace between the Arabs and the Israelis negotiations are merely a means to achieve the peace. To the vast majority of Zionist leaders, negotiating with the Arabs is an end in itself. Therefore, immediately after the Madrid Conference, Yitzhak Shamir promised that Israel would negotiate over the next twenty years and would not offer any concessions. To them, the negotiations are still a way to embarrass the Palestinians and the Arabs, and to portray them as rigid, bloodthirsty intransigents. The negotiations were also used to divide the Palestinians and Arabs into "moderates" who want to go down the path of negotiations and settlement and those who are "rigid" and reject this path.
Indeed, negotiations have been exploited to gain time and exhaust the Arabs in the area of diplomatic manoeuvres, while the Zionists and Israelis carry on expanding and deepening the settlements and stealing more Palestinian lands.
Based on this approach, the Netanyahu government launched a campaign demanding a return to direct negotiations with the Palestinians and exerted pressure via Washington on the Palestinian Authority to return to the negotiating table. To those who do not know anything about the history of the Palestinian cause and Arab-Israeli relations, this campaign suggested that the Israeli government had a lot to discuss and offer in these negotiations. However, this hypothesis was to fade after Palestinians accepted the negotiations. The Israelis leaders, including Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, rushed to withdraw the optimistic expectations from the stock market of Israel-Palestinian relations, as they warned against high expectations from the negotiations. Suspiciousness and pessimism were encouraged by Israeli diplomats disseminating rumours that President Mubarak and the King of Jordan would not attend the opening of the talks unless they received a direct invitation President Obama. It was also said that the eagerness of the US administration towards the negotiations has lessened since the completion of their combat missions in Iraq.
All this information affected Washington to the extent that an Israeli diplomat had to warn against minimising the importance of the negotiations so that they would not be become a "self-fulfilling prophecy". He was referring to negotiations ending before Israel could achieve its purposes, namely facilitating the settlements and deepening the division between the Palestinians. However, what is required are negotiations with enough credibility that can be used a cover for Israeli expansion, but not serious enough to commit Israeli to anything solid.
The author is a Lebanese writer and academic
Source: Gulf Emirates Newspaper
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.