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Netanyahu's conditions kill negotiations at birth

By Omar Radwan

Israel's Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has said that any Palestinian state that is created at the end of peace negotiations must be demilitarized and must recognize Israel as a Jewish state. With these demands, Netanyahu is trying to kill off the peace talks before they even begin. He also said that Israel would not accept any preconditions and would not respond to any invitation to the peace talks from the Quartet, on the grounds that such an invitation would bind Israel to the Quartet's terms for peace a halt to settlement building and the establishment of a viable Palestinian state within two years. Having rejected the international community's terms, Netanyahu is now setting his own preconditions but these are not designed to bring about a successful conclusion and peace; Netanyahu knows that his conditions will not be acceptable to the Palestinians. If the Palestinian Authority was to accept them, it would lose whatever remaining legitimacy it has among its people.

Netanyahu's first demand, that a Palestinian state must be demilitarized, would mean that a future Palestinian state would be defenceless against Israeli attack. There is no way that such a state could be described as "sovereign", since Israel could, at any time of its own choosing, abrogate the peace treaty and re-occupy Palestine. It would also mean that all Palestinian factions Fatah, Hamas, the PFLP, Islamic Jihad, etc. would be forced by the Palestinian Authority to give up their weapons, something which they will never agree to willingly. If agreed by the PA, this demand of Netanyahu's would lead almost inevitably to a Palestinian civil war.

According to UN General Assembly resolution 194, the Palestinian refugees who were expelled from their homes by Israel in 1948, and their descendants, have the right of return to the land out of which they were driven. However, the Israeli government says that Israel's "Jewish character" would be compromised if that legal right to return is implemented as it is likely that Palestinians would become the majority of the population within Israel's 1948 borders. If Israel manages to force the Palestinians to recognise it as a Jewish state, as Netanyahu is demanding, that would, to all intents and purposes, mean that the Palestinians would give up their right of return. The Palestinians have been fighting for this internationally-recognised right for more than sixty years. Israel is the country that made them homeless and it was built on the theft of their homes and their land; it therefore has an obligation to allow them to return. There can be no just solution to the conflict in the Middle East without the right of return being recognised. Those Palestinians living in refugee camps in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon have refused permanent resettlement in the host countries, most of which do not grant refugees citizenship, because they hold fast to their right to return to their homeland. However, Netanyahu believes that he can force the Palestinians to give up this legitimate right, held sacred for generations, by making the terms of any peace treaty dependent on them renouncing it.

Netanyahu's demand that Israel be recognised as a "Jewish state" by the Palestinians is truly unique. Imagine the uproar if Britain or the United States demanded that other countries recognised them as "Christian states". Not only does this demand mean that the Palestinians will have to give up their right of return, it also means that they must recognise the legitimacy of Israel's discrimination against its Arab minority. Within the 1948 boundaries, Palestinian Arabs make up at least 20% of Israel's population. While Israel claims that they are treated equally they have always suffered discrimination and persecution and their situation has become worse in recent years. Their leaders and political organisations have been targeted by the Israeli state, a series of discriminatory laws have been proposed by the right-wing coalition government and calls for their mass expulsion from Israel – called "transfer" by Zionists; ethnic cleansing in all but name – are getting louder. Recognition by the Palestinians of Israel as a distinctly Jewish state would in effect acknowledge that Israel's discrimination against its non-Jewish citizens is legitimate. Such "legitimacy" may then be used as a justification for the ethnic cleansing to continue unabated.

In addition to these two conditions which Netanyahu is trying to impose unilaterally on the peace talks, he has said that the "freeze" on settlement building, which the Israeli government announced last November and which is due to expire next month, will not be extended. It appears that such a limited "freeze" as this has been, allowing is it does Israel to continue building in settlements at the same pace it was before and did not include settlements in East Jerusalem (because Israel does not regard east Jerusalem as occupied territory), is still too much for Netanyahu's extreme-right coalition partners. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is threatening to withdraw from the government if the freeze-that-isn't-really is extended and Netanyahu has already said that he will not extend it. The Palestinian Authority claims that it will pull out of the negotiations if the freeze is not extended.

It appears, therefore, that the latest negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis are likely to be stillborn. As soon as they were announced, Netanyahu's government took steps to ensure that they fail. No Palestinian government can accept what Netanyahu is demanding and even though the Palestinian Authority knew that Israel had not stopped settlement building when it agreed to negotiations, it knows it will not be able to continue with the talks if the Israelis officially end their "freeze" and announce major settlement construction projects. It was already clear before the negotiations began that Israel's settlements had made a viable Palestinian state in the West Bank unattainable. The Palestinian Authority will soon know that it is impossible to negotiate with Netanyahu's extremist government.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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