Benjamin Netanyahu
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking to the Knesset, May 16, 2011. Photo by Daniel Bar-On
Text size

Compared to his opposition speeches, and even to his Bar-Ilan speech, the foundations of a final status agreement laid out by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday should cause concern to his friends on the right. Barely an hour before Netanyahu addressed the issue of Palestinian statehood, MK Danny Danon of the prime minister's own Likud party was speaking about "the self-designated Palestinians."

Netanyahu narrowed the ethos he received from his father of Jewish settlement in the whole of "Judea and Samaria" to a more pragmatic vision of a "bloc of settlements." From the perspective of several members of his forum of seven ministers, Netanyahu is beating a heretical retreat from a Jewish presence in the entire Jordan Valley to a military presence along the Jordan River.

Be this as it may, Netanyahu doesn't have to negotiate with himself, or sign a peace agreement with Barack Obama. It is the Palestinians with whom the prime minister needs to reach an agreement, and his partner in the mission for a two-state solution is Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Throughout the almost two decades that have elapsed since September 1993, when Yasser Arafat shook the hand of Yitzhak Rabin on the White House lawn, Abbas has devoted his life in an attempt to transform the Oslo Accords into the last chapter of the occupation. He analyzes Netanyahu's words and more so his deeds (or really, the lack of deeds) in the context of the maps and formulas presented to the Palestinians by Ehud Barak a decade ago, and those submitted by Ehud Olmert in September 2008. This comparison shows that Netanyahu's speech is, as the Americans say, a "non-starter."

When the right-wing Tzipi Hotoveli whispers into Netanyahu's ear quotes from analysts who believe he has strayed leftward, he can wink at her and show her the shackles with which he bound his own hands. First shackle: there is no negotiating with a Palestinian leadership that made an alliance with Hamas. Second shackle: there is no Palestinian leader who will recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Third shackle: there is no chance that the Palestinians will accept the annexation of East Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount, or an Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley, or borders that are hermetically sealed to the refugees of 1948. Fourth shackle: he did not mention a settlement freeze, which was and still remains a precondition set by Abbas for the renewal of talks on a final status agreement.

But the truly important things were those not said in the speech. Netanyahu did not let the magic number that all of the world's leaders expected to hear cross his lips: 1967. The key to the negotiating room is Israeli recognition of the borders of the fourth of June 1967. From there it is possible to speak about exchanging territory in the West Bank or East Jerusalem and to barter on the rest of the central issues. It seems as if convincing Netanyahu that recognizing the '67 borders is necessary for adapting to a changing reality, as was the method of Benjamin Zeev Herzl, is like convincing an ultra-orthodox person that eating pork on Yom Kippur is good for one's health.

The Palestinians' course remained facing forward toward the UN assembly in New York this coming September. There they (and also the State of Israel!) will achieve for the first time recognition as an independent state in the '67 borders. Yesterday, another important European state—Italy under the right-wing Berlusconi—joined the growing list of states that have already elevated diplomatic relations with nascent Palestine. Will "Mr. No-No," to use Barak's moniker for Netanyahu, keep the "yes-yes" as a surprise present for Obama?