Israel U.S ties- AP- May 18, 2009
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama at the White House in 2009. Photo by AP
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Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s immortal saying ‘there is nothing to fear but fear’ is stood on its head by Netanyahu. His speech at the Knesset this week could be summarized as ‘there is nothing to fear but hope’.

Netanyahu continues harping on his favorite theme: the problem is not 1967; it is 1948, and the Palestinians haven’t accepted Israel’s existence. Netanyahu knows very well that without compromise on Jerusalem, there is no peace, and this means that he will go to the US without an initiative worth its name.

Netanyahu’s real positions are basically analogous the three Arab “No” in the infamous 1967 Khartoum declaration: He says no to a viable Palestinian state; he doesn’t want an agreement with them; and, ultimately, he doesn’t really want negotiations with them. The whole rest, from the Bar-Ilan speech to his latest statement is make-believe to keep international pressure at bay and claim that he really wants a peace agreement.

But Netanyahu’s international credibility is at a total low. Foreign diplomats, politicians or journalists I speak to do not believe a word of Netanyahu’s rhetoric about the Palestinians as peace-refuseniks. By bogging down peace negotiations with his endless bickering about settlement construction, he was just trying to buy time. This, together with keeping Lieberman in the foreign ministry, has totally eroded his international trustworthiness.

Netanyahu will try to mobilize his last allies, AIPAC and the Republicans in Congress, to put pressure on Obama to torpedo recognition of Palestine. He will give his usual spiel about Israel’s being in existential danger; he will talk about the nature of worldwide terror. Most of all he will warn that Israel’s existential legitimacy is under threat.

Paradoxically, if Netanyahu is indeed primarily concerned with Israel’s legitimacy, he has a viable strategy at his disposal. Legal experts have pointed out that international recognition of a Palestinians state along the 1967 borders would entail that the Palestinians would forfeit any demands about Israeli territory within the 1967 borders.

Recognition of Palestine within the 1967 borders would therefore take care of what Netanyahu claims to be his deepest fear, and indeed worries many Israelis: the undermining of the legitimacy of Israel’s existence. For the first time since the UN resolution of 1947 that recognized the right of Jews to have a state here, Israel would have an internationally recognized border, and the truly existential fears could be laid to rest.

Therefore the rational thing he should do in his visit in the US is to ask President Obama to support UN recognition of Palestine within 1967 borders not only in the General Assembly, but in the Security Council as well, thus anchoring Israel’s right to exist and its borders in international law.

Mr. Netanyahu will do nothing of the sort. He will argue that Fatah’s reconciliation with Hamas makes any deal impossible and point out that Hamas doesn’t recognize Israel’s right to exist.

Of course Hamas is a problem, and I have no sympathy either for its terror tactics or for the rabid anti-Semitism and primitive, fundamentalist language of its charter. But research shows that peace can never be achieved by leaving out a major player. Whether we like it or not, Hamas is an integral part of Palestinian society.

The smart way to deal with Hamas is to force it to change its position by strengthening Fatah’s moderate line. Hamas is already under great pressure because of the ongoing changes in the Arab world: they may soon be bereft of any power-base outside the Palestinian territories, hence their hurry for reconciliation with Fatah.

International recognition of Palestine will be credited to Fatah; and if Israel dramatically expands the areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority, this will further convince Palestinians, that Hamas’ hard-line policies are opposed to their interests.

The problem is that Netanyahu has no motivation to maneuver Hamas into moderation, because an extremist Hamas is really Netanyahu’s best friend. A Hamas that moderates its stance and takes the way of the IRA from a terror organization to a legitimate party in a peace process is an existential threat to Netanyahu’s political future. Without a hard-line Hamas, he would be left with no case against a Palestinian state, and he would have to face open conflict with the hard-line right-wingers in his own party and in his coalition in actual moves towards peace.

Expect Netanyahu to do everything to torpedo recognition of Palestine; expect him to try to weaken Fatah, Abu Mazen and Fayyad, and thus to strengthen Hamas’ extremist wing. As a result, Israel’s legitimacy will indeed come under ever more fire. But let’s face it: this is good for Netanyahu. No right-wing politician ever stayed in power if he didn’t succeed in frightening his electorate to death.