The decision to add the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Rachel's Tomb to the list of historical heritage sites up for renovation was not made with the intention of inflaming tempers and sabotaging efforts to revive final-status talks with the Palestinians. It was merely a routine move by a rightist government, further proof that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's "two states" speech at Bar-Ilan University was a milestone on the road to nowhere. The only difference between "the rock of our existence" that launched the Western Wall tunnel violence in 1996 and the 2010 model is that this time Netanyahu is wearing a mask, trying to pass himself off as peace activist Uri Avnery, with the generous help of Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
The prime minister, as we all know, simply can't wait for renewed final-status talks to get underway, but Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas refuses to back down and is setting "conditions that predetermine the outcome of the negotiations," as Netanyahu told Haaretz a week ago. Indeed, the Palestinians have made their participation in indirect talks conditional on, in part, a construction freeze during the talks in West Bank settlements and East Jerusalem. They have the audacity to claim that it is Netanyahu's demand to expand settlements during negotiations along with the assertion of Jewish ownership over sensitive sites which are the conditions that predetermine the outcome of the talks.
The Palestinian demand for a total freeze on settlement construction, including that required for natural population growth, is not, in Netanyahu's words "a condition that no country would accept." Israel accepted that condition in the road map seven years ago. In an article in the journal of the Israel Council on Foreign Relations in December 2009, Prof. Ruth Lapidoth, recipient of the 2006 Israel Prize for Legal Studies, and Dr. Ofra Friesel write that the Netanyahu government is obligated by the road map, which was ratified by the Sharon government. A former legal adviser to the Foreign Ministry, Lapidoth stresses that the 14 remarks (not reservations, as they are usually termed) that Israel appended have no legal validity. And since the U.S. government promised no more than to relate "fully and seriously" to these remarks, they don't have any diplomatic validity, either.
Netanyahu argues that Sharon reached an oral agreement with George W. Bush that the construction freeze would not apply to the "settlement blocs" and that the United States would take into account natural-growth requirements. The prime minister therefore expects the Palestinians to honor not only formal agreements to which they were a party, but also informal understandings reached behind their backs between Israel and America. Yet when the Palestinians demand an acknowledgment of understandings they reached with the Olmert government on a number of final-status principles, Netanyahu says this is a "precondition that predetermines the outcome of negotiations."
The prime minister also contemptuously rejects the Palestinian demand that the talks be resumed where they were halted in December 2008. He is not prepared to even listen to the parameters for a final-status agreement proposed by Bill Clinton in December 2000. Netanyahu insists he has the right to start negotiations from square one, ignoring every agreement already reached with the Palestinians. He has even forgotten the Wye River Memorandum of 1998, under which he undertook, in Clinton's presence, to transfer 13 percent of Area C to the Palestinians.
Netanyahu sticks only to those clauses in the interim agreement (Oslo 2) that removed responsibility for the Palestinians' welfare from Israel's hands and left Israel in control of Area C (60 percent of the West Bank). And of course, Netanyahu is totally committed to those clauses that require the Palestinians to combat terrorist infrastructure and incitement and refrain from asking the United Nations to condemn the injustices of the occupation.
Netanyahu is setting conditions for negotiations that no country would accept. His opposition to a settlement freeze and his refusal to resume talks where they left off expose his Bar-Ilan declarations as a cunning diversionary tactic. As his chief spokesman, President Shimon Peres, is wont to declare, "You have to tell the people the truth." The dismal truth is that, behind the mask, Netanyahu is still the same old Bibi.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now