What does Netanyahu want?

Posted: April 25th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: elections, In the News, The Right, the US and us | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment »

After his refusal to accept the Two State Solution, PM Benjamin Netanyahu brought up his own term for an agreement with the Palestinians: a demand that they would recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

You have to give it to Netanyahu – he was always good with PR. This new condition sounds very reasonable to almost all of the Jewish public in Israel, as well as to most of the community in the US. Naturally, the Palestinians will never accept it – not because they seek to destroy Israel, but because it will be a death blow to the legitimate political claims of the large Palestinian minority within Israel – so Netanyhu probably assumes that his new demand will help him avoid meaningful negotiations or concessions.

Why is this claim so absurd? For once, because the nature of the state of Israel – whether it is a Jewish state or “a state for all its citizens” or whatever other model – is the business of the its citizens, not the International community or the Palestinian Authority. We can just as well demand that Mahmud Abbas will announce that he accepts Israel as a Parliamentary Democracy. And what if we all decide to be Republicans tomorrow?

Yonatan Touval explains in Haartez why Netanyahu’s demand might also hurt the very ideal it pretends to stand for (This article wasn’t publish in the English edition, so this is my own translations):

“Israel has already got the world to recognize it as a Jewish state as part of the 1947 Partition Plan (Which the PLO adopted – though very late – in the 1988 Algeria deceleration). Netanyahu’s demand from the Palestinians sends us back to this point in time [i.e. 1947], and re-invite the world to take another look at the Partition Plan. Such debate might bring counter-demands from the Palestinians regarding other elements of the plan [which were never implemented] like the partition borders, the statues of Jerusalem [the city was supposed to be under international rule], and might even open the door for those who wish to question the very notion of parting the land.

Israel has never demanded – and therefor never got – such recognition, not from Egypt nor from Jordan, not as a term for entering negotiations nor for signing an agreement.”


What does Netanyahu really want? As some pundits – amongst them Sima Kadmon and Nahum Barnea in Yedioth, and Yossi Verter in Haaretz – observed this weekend, it seems that Netanyahu planed his comeback for 10 years, but never got to thinking about the things he wishes to achieve.

Netanyahu never presented the Israeli public – or the world, for that matter – some sort of vision for solving the Palestinian problem, let alone the future of the Middle East. Speaking to a group of reporters three months before the elections, he was asked about the Palestinians. At first he almost avoided the question, later on he presented something similar to the 30-years-old “Alon Plan”. Around the elections a new idea was born – “the economical peace”. When the White House announced clearly that this won’t do, came up the current line of defense.

I don’t know what Netanyhu thinks regarding the Palestinian problem. He could be a pragmatist like some people claim, or he might be just like his dad. But I do know this: the current coalition won’t allow any concessions – let alone a full agreement of any sort. And one thing that Netanyahu wants for sure, is to survive.

One Comment on “What does Netanyahu want?”

  1. 1 Ira Glunts said at 12:27 pm on April 26th, 2009:

    Hi Noam,

    Thanks for the post. I agree that no one can be sure what Bibi will do.

    My guess is that Netanyahu’s preferred plan is to continue placing conditions on all agreements and negotiations with the Palestinians and the US. These will, according to the Israeli interpretation, make any real progress toward a settlement impossible. This is what Sharon did by accepting the Road Map based on 14 reservations. Funny, how nobody in the press mentions this when referring to the Israeli “acceptance” of the Road Map.

    If this does not work I think plan bet will try to negotiate something based on the “Alon Plan.” Sharon was reported to have prepared a written plan along these lines which he showed to a high Italian official (I don’t recall any more than that.) In other words, unilateralism.

    In both cases Bibi will have powerful political forces in the US pressuring the American administration to accept the Israeli ideas. He will also confront a young inexperienced President who despite his PR has demonstrated an unwillingness to fight the powers that be.

    I predict a long slow dance between Bibi and Barack in which each plays to his own constituency and in which they both avoid confrontation with the other, while perserving the status quo.

    A lot has changed both in Israel, the US and in the West Bank and Gaza since Bibi’s last go round. He will not be the “pragmatic” Bibi of Wye. He is not facing the same pressures he did then.

    I hope I am wrong, but I see very little light at the end of this tunnel (no pun intended).