Netanyahu is 'happy' to accept peace plans, less so to seal the deal
Netanyahu is counting on the fact that Israeli citizens won't read the fine print of the Quartet's plan, and that the media will just report he has 'adopted' the plan and is calling on the Palestinians to follow suit.
If the government's declaration that it welcomes the Quartet's plan is really true, it is not only a political revolution the likes of which we have not seen since the signing of the Oslo Accords 18 years ago, it is also a dramatic political change unlike any other since the Likud won the 1977 elections.
If Benjamin Netanyahu is really ready to adopt the international foursome's plan, Meretz Knesset members should must now find a tailor specializing in suits for government ministers. On the other hand, Avigdor Lieberman and his friends from Yisrael Beiteinu, like Daniel Hershkowitz and his mates from Habayit Hayehudi, Eli Yishai of Shas, and Likud members such as Benny Begin and Moshe Ya'alon will have to make an effort to remain in a government that is prepared even to merely consider the plan. If they suspected that Netanyahu really accepts it as a basis for negotiations, they would have hung up their own suits in the closet.
There are no signs that the landlord has gone crazy. Like any sly property owner, Netanyahu depends on the fact that his tenants - namely, you, the citizens - won't take the time to read the fine print in the Quartet's document and won't ask unnecessary questions. The main thing is that the media will report to the world that Israel has "adopted" the plan and is calling on the Palestinians to follow in its footsteps.
How many people will notice that the Quartet's plan, which the government is now "happy to advance," states that the authoritative source for the negotiations is a combination of Barack Obama's May 19, 2011, speech, the 2003 Road Map and the Arab peace initiative of 2002? Who is able to pick out the differences between Obama's speech to the U.S. Department of State and the ones he gave to AIPAC and to the UN? Who remembers that the Road Map requires that Israel freeze all construction in the settlements, including building to cater for the "natural growth" of the population, and dismantle the outposts immediately? Who is familiar with the Arab peace initiative, which recommends that in exchange for normalization of relations with the Arab states, Israel withdraws from the territories it conquered in 1967 (including the Golan Heights ) and lends a hand to a just and agreed-upon solution to the problem of refugees on the basis of UN Resolution 194?
For more than four months, Netanyahu has refused to "happily advance" Obama's suggestion that negotiations be held on the basis of the 1967 borders and mutually agreed land swaps. So what caused him suddenly to change his mind and so readily promote a package deal that is much weightier?
Nothing. Netanyahu has not changed his mind. The prime minister has learned from Ariel Sharon that there need not be a connection between accepting the Quartet's plan and the facts on the ground. Even the UN Security Council's decision to adopt the Road Map has not changed reality. Well, ok, it has changed; it's taken a turn for the worse. Since the Israeli government "adopted" the Road Map plan in 2003, thousands of apartments have been added to the settlements, and the vast majority of outposts are still standing. And who is the American Congress punishing for breaching agreements by cutting aid? That's right, the Palestinians, who dared to ask the UN to recognize their state.
The good news is that the right-wing government's decision to happily promote the Quartet's plan will be written down in history, alongside Yitzhak Shamir's presence at the Madrid Conference 20 years ago this month, and Netanyahu's signature on the Hebron and Wye agreements, as well as his powerful speech about two states.
No peace agreement will result from the government's decision to accept the Quartet's plan either; but if a moderate government should arise in Israel one day, it will be a little more difficult for the right to attack it for agreeing to conduct negotiations on the basis of principles similar to those laid out in the September 2011 draft by the Quartet.
The problem is there is no guarantee that the Palestinian's partner will survive until then.
A strange coincidence
What will happen if the Palestinians display the fine print in the Quartet document for all to see, and then declare that they, therefore, are gladly going forth with Israel's decision to open negotiations on the basis of the 1967 borders, including Jerusalem, and without recognizing Israel as a Jewish state? Don't worry. Every time Netanyahu is threatened with a peace agreement, someone tells him that there is a plan in the drawer for new construction in Gilo.
What a strange coincidence! In November 2009, the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee authorized a plan to build 900 apartments in Gilo. It happened on the very day that U.S. envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell was meeting in London with attorney Yitzhak Molho, Netanyahu's envoy, in an attempt to formulate principles for negotiations on final-status arrangements.
The day before, Mitchell had made clear that the American government opposed building in Gilo. So what if he made this clear? The next day, Obama said in an interview to the Fox broadcasting network that these types of steps were hard on Middle East peace and were even likely to threaten Israel's security. So what if he said it?
A senior European diplomat told me that the new unilateral decision to build 1,100 apartments in Gilo would not create a storm among EU member-states. He said that the Quartet had prepared far more severe punishments for the Palestinians for taking the drastic unilateral step of approaching the UN. Quartet leaders breathed more easily when they heard that Netanyahu did not agree to Avigdor Lieberman's pleas to annex settlement blocs and had rejected pressure from Likud activists to sign a large construction plan for the E1 area connecting Ma'aleh Adumim to East Jerusalem.
If the supply of construction plans for Gilo runs out, Netanyahu has a slew of plans for Jerusalem that have the potential to annoy the Palestinians. He never promised them that they would continue to bear the stigma of being negotiation refuseniks and people who stray off the beaten path and go their own way.