Monday, June 15, 2009

The Netanyahu Speech

Given the reaction from the EU and President Obama, Netanyahu squirmed out of a difficult corner in which he had to concede something following the demands put on him recently. The concession was his abandonment - nuance aside - of his and his supporter's opposition to the two-state solution. When President Obama referred to this as a "good first step", I disagree with Josh Marshall where he feels that this is "doubly naive":

Most reactions in the US press are treating this as a major move by Netanyahu, endorsing the idea of a Palestinian state. But that seems doubly naive a) since that's been the premise of US policy for almost 20 years as well as a goal accepted by several Israeli governments and b) because Netanyahu's conditions amounted to deal breakers.

Yes, it has been the premise of US foreign policy for 20 years and yes again - Netanyahu's conditions are deal breakers. However, the position taken by the Netanyahu government is a major change for him. To that extent, the acceptance of a two-state solution is a good first step. I have serious doubts that the two state solution would work, but this is the policy that is being pushed, and pushed hard.

I think it is important to remember that President Obama has changed the game vis a vis Israel with his demand for an end to settlements - something Netanyahu has yet to address adequately. Netanyahu is in a terrible political position at home if he wants to retain power. He cannot ignore the US without blowing apart his coalition. If President Obama keeps the pressure on Netanyahu obtaining a stream of concessions (like dismantling of ad-hoc settlements illegal under Israeli law and by force if necessary)then there is a chance that a Netanyahu government will reach a deal with the Palestinians where a Labor government simply could not. This is a "Nixon goes to China" scenario and probably the only one that has a chance of working.

The Palestinian reaction was predictable and they have many points in their favor. The conditionalities put forward in the speach are clearly unacceptable. They strip away rights that define a "state". The Netanyahu government needs to walk those conditions back. Having said that, the Palestinians need to accept reality: 1) recognize Israel and 2) accept a compromise on repatriation. This is really not too much to ask. Without either, no deal and no peace.

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