Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tried on Wednesday to rip open a diplomatic window for Israel. At a press conference he convened together with Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, he said that one of the goals he set for the fighting in the Gaza Strip is “achieving a new diplomatic horizon for the State of Israel.” He boasted that it was now easier for Israel to explain its diplomatic considerations, referring to the changes that have taken place in the Middle East. “I’m interested in exhausting this possibility ... I will look forward to restarting negotiations with a Palestinian government committed to peace with Israel, to the end to terror,” he said.
What the prime minister said is true: The regional changes indeed call for a daring new diplomatic initiative on his part, in order to end the occupation and reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians. Without doing those two things, Israel has no chance of improving its diplomatic and regional standing, even if new temporary alliances have been created with several Arab states that oppose Hamas. These alliances won’t hold water over time without a solution to the Palestinian problem.
In the summer of 2009, Netanyahu gave a speech at Bar-Ilan University in which he voiced willingness to see a Palestinian state established. Since then, five years have passed, during which he did everything in his power to thwart this possibility. He lent a hand to more and more construction in the settlements and sabotaged the talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on various pretexts. Now, he has been granted a second opportunity, perhaps the last, to make his mark and advance a historic agreement.
It’s good that the prime minister said what he did precisely now, at the height of the fighting in Gaza, and at a time when he is under incessant attack by his colleagues on the right. But the burden of proof is on him. His statements about a new diplomatic horizon must not remain empty words.
Netanyahu must imbue them with real content, and as quickly as possible. He must resume negotiations with the Palestinian Authority — including the Palestinian unity government, if it lasts — and undertake a series of confidence-building measures, including the release of Palestinian prisoners to which Israel previously committed and freezing construction in the settlements. Without such steps, Netanyahu’s statements will remain hollow and worthless, exactly like the words of his Bar-Ilan speech.
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