Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is developing a "laundry list" that he will present to U.S. President Barack Obama when they meet next month in Washington. The Israeli premier will present Obama with a three-part plan involving halting Iran's nuclear program, closer relations with moderate Arab states and dealing with the Palestinian issue through several channels.
Netanyahu will tell Obama that he will not recognize a nation-state providing Palestinian self-determination if the Palestinians don't recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. From the standpoint of the Israeli prime minister, the requirement that the Palestinians recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people is a fundamental demand in any negotiations on a final settlement. It is not a precondition to conducting negotiations, but rather necessary to progress towards an agreement.
During the course of negotiations to form his coalition government, Netanyahu revealed that the Olmert government demanded recognition of Israel as a Jewish state in its talks with the Palestinians, but withdrew that demand within just 24 hours because of opposition from the Palestinian negotiators. Netanyahu intends to stop the erosion of the fundamental Israeli positions, as was his position during his prior term as prime minister following the Oslo Accords.
Why is Netanyahu insistent on Palestinian recognition of Israel as "the nation-state of the Jewish people," rejecting critics who see the demand as a means to scuttle negotiations? There are a few explanations for his position. First of all, Netanyahu wants to present an Israeli demand for recognition of national rights as a counterweight to the demand that Israel recognize "Palestinian rights." Second, he is concerned that if the Palestinians evade such recognition in political negotiations, they will also refrain from telling their constituency that Israel is the state of the Jewish people, and will continue to pursue the conflict even after a settlement is reached. Third, recognition of a Jewish state will neutralize the Palestinian demand for the "right of return" of Palestinian refugees.
The prime minister also has political considerations, however. To mobilize support from the Israeli public and from the U.S. Congress for his positions in the face of possible pressure from Obama, Netanyahu needs to build a common denominator across party and factional lines. The principle of the "Jewish state" enjoys wide support among relevant sectors of the public, and it is much easier to mobilize support for this than a policy opposing withdrawal from territories and evacuation of settlements.
Netanyahu is also seeking to come to an agreement with the United States defining "limitations on sovereignty" to be imposed on a future Palestinian entity. This includes prohibiting it from maintaining an army or forging military agreements or alliances, and Israel continuing to monitor its external borders, airspace and electromagnetic spectrum. The prime minister's predecessor, Ehud Olmert, unsuccessfully tried to secure such guarantees from the Bush administration, despite having proposed a withdrawal from almost all of the West Bank. Netanyahu accords great importance to security guarantees from the Americans, and thinks he will be more successful in securing them than Olmert had been.
In deliberations Netanyahu is conducting to develop his peace plan, there will also be consideration of gestures which Israel will make to the Palestinians, as well as Israel's response to the demand to freeze construction in the settlements, vacate outposts and remove roadblocks. The prime minister intends to bring the issue of the settlements to a decision by the cabinet, and it is assumed he will only present his position right before his trip to the White House.
Netanyahu believes the Iranian threat provides Israel with an unprecedented opportunity in that, for the first time since 1920, moderate Arab states share the same strategic assessment. In fact, Iran will be central to the plans Netanyahu will present to Obama. He will explain to the American president that the existence of Israel is the guarantor of the continued existence of the Jewish people following the Holocaust and that nuclear weapons cannot fall into the hands of those who deny the existence of the Jewish state. Netanyahu would prefer that the U.S. deal with the Iranian threat and, if Obama asks what Israel would be willing to give in return, the Israeli premier would show great interest in the subject.
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