Apparently worried about the potential impact on Israel of ongoing Arab revolutions, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is reported to be contemplating a new “peace plan” that will throw the proverbial ball back into the Palestinians’ court and ease international pressure on Israel to come to terms with Palestinian rights.
Israel has refused consistently to give up the spoils of the 1967 war. The Zionist state has also been adamant in its refusal to allow the repatriation of millions of Palestinian refugees, expelled at gunpoint from their homes and villages in what is now Israel.
Furthermore, Israel has built hundreds of illegal Jewish colonies on land confiscated and stolen from Palestinians. The settlements, inhabited by some of the most fanatical Zionist Jewish migrants from around the world, have proven to be a formidable obstacle to the conclusion of a peace agreement in the region.
Netanyahu’s new “plan for peace”, already dismissed by Palestinian officials as another mendacious exercise in public relations, is slated to be delivered in a speech by the Israeli premier on 24 May at a joint session of the US Congress. Given the slavish nature of Congress to all things Israeli, it is likely to be well received.
Speaking to his Likud Party, Netanyahu said he would use the address to Congress to discuss a way to “bring a secure peace between us and our neighbours”.
In a clear swipe at previous US-brokered deals, the Israeli Prime Minister said, “Not a peace on paper, not a peace of ceremonies and lawns, but a peace that will last and ensures our future and security.”
His idea of such a peace is warped; Netanyahu recently signed several plans to build tens of thousands of settler units in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, which international observers contend will make the establishment of a viable and territorially contiguous Palestinian state well nigh impossible.
Moreover, Israel has also confiscated large swathes of Palestinian land along the western bank of the River Jordan which would make any Palestinian entity on the West Bank surrounded and controlled entirely by Israel and subject to its whims.
Notorious for his dishonesty, prevarication and verbal juggling, Netanyahu didn’t spell out the details of his plan. However, according to reports in the Hebrew-language media, he isn’t planning a real withdrawal from the occupied territories.
According to Alex Fishman of Yedeoth Ahronoth, “We are not talking about a rapid withdrawal from the occupied territories and handing them over to the Palestinians. We are rather talking about a long process, the implementation of which will take at least five years, during which Israel will allow Palestinians to move more freely throughout the West Bank.”
In other words, and more to the point, there will be more repositioning of Israeli forces inside the West Bank in a way that will allow Israel to “transfer” to Palestinian Authority (PA) control more land classified currently as zones B and C.
Taken at face value, the Netanyahu plan seems to be another attempt to deceive the international community rather than a genuine effort to end the occupation that began in 1967 and bring about a final resolution of the Palestine-Israel conflict.
Netanyahu has come under pressure, both in the United States, where the Israel lobby has immense influence over US policies, and in Israel itself, to develop a diplomatic initiative which can undermine a Palestinian campaign to obtain a UN General Assembly resolution recognising a Palestinian state in the territories occupied in 1967.
In recent weeks, Israeli intellectuals and political veterans have warned that Israel stands to lose out as a result of the ongoing revolutions in the Arab world, especially in Egypt. The Israeli media has quoted some Israeli politicians and military leaders who describe the dramatic collapse of the Mubarak regime as “a strategic loss”.
Last week, a group of Israeli security and business leaders, speaking at Tel Aviv University, said that time is not on Israel’s side. “The changing landscape of the Middle East and Israel’s international image demands a new Israeli peace initiative,” they warned.
Speaking at the same forum, the former Director of Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service, claimed that the current status quo in the West Bank is “presenting a mortal threat to the state of Israel”.
According to General Yaakov Perry, “Our continued presence in the [Palestinian] territories is a threat to Zionism. With every passing minute further damage is done to the State of Israel.”
One thing is clear, he added, “the Middle East is changing, dramatic things are happening around us, we are witnessing historic changes towards reform, most of which are not being led by extremist groups.”
The fact that there is very little substance to Netanyahu’s plan is not surprising. He has always been and continues to be a firm believer in Erez Yisrael ha’shlema (the Biblical Land of Israel). Hence, it is highly unlikely that Israel’s premier will present any initiative toward achieving a genuine lasting and dignified peace deal with the Palestinians.
What is more likely is that Netanyahu will continue to quibble and beat about the bush until Barack Obama becomes a lame duck president and any ability his administration may have to put pressure on Israel is frittered away.
In a speech at Bar Illan University on 14 June, 2009, Netanyahu outlined his vision of a Palestinian “state” that would live beside Israel in peace. He envisioned a thoroughly deformed entity without sovereignty, without contiguous territory, without control of its own resources, and without control over its airspace and borders.
In other words, the state which the Israeli premier wanted Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims to accept, was an entity existing on paper which, in reality, would be a series of Bantustans with minimal, if any, autonomy and controlled absolutely by Israel.
There has been no indication that Netanyahu’s vision of a Palestinian state has undergone any serious transformation since that speech. He remains as committed as ever for Israel to devour as much Palestinian land as possible while confining Palestinians to little more than Bantustans and townships. Interestingly, those pathetic statelets cut off from each other and dependent entirely on Israel would, if Netanyahu gets his way, be called something grandiose but meaningless, such as the “Great Arab Republic of Palestine”.
Nevertheless, there is no doubt that Benjamin Netanyahu’s prevarication and maliciousness will come back to haunt Israel and lead to the perpetuation of the conflict. In the final analysis, Israel will still have to exist in a hostile environment until and unless a peace deal is agreed which guarantees justice for the people of the Holy Land. If Netanyahu and his ilk have any doubts about that, they have only to look at the quest for freedom and justice in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Yemen. Why should the Palestinians want or accept anything less?
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.