Franklin Delano Roosevelt's immortal saying, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself," has been turned on its head by Netanyahu. His speech at the Knesset this week could be summarized as "The only thing we have to fear is hope." Netanyahu continues to harp on his favorite theme: The problem is not 1967; it is 1948, and the Palestinians haven't accepted Israel's existence. Netanyahu knows very well that there is no peace without compromise on Jerusalem, and this means he will go to the U.S. without an initiative worth its name.
Netanyahu's real positions are basically analogous to the three Arab No's of the infamous 1967 Khartoum declaration, issued in the wake of the Six-Day War: He says no to a viable Palestinian state; he doesn't want an agreement with them; and, ultimately, he doesn't really want negotiations with them. Everything else, from his Bar-Ilan speech to his latest statement, is make-believe meant to keep international pressure at bay and allow him to claim that he really wants a peace agreement.
Netanyahu's international credibility is at a complete low, however. Foreign diplomats, politicians and journalists I speak to do not believe a word of Netanyahu's rhetoric about the Palestinians as peace-refuseniks. He was just trying to buy time by bogging down peace negotiations with his endless bickering about settlement construction. This, together with keeping Lieberman in the Foreign Ministry, has totally eroded his international trustworthiness.
Netanyahu will try to mobilize his last allies, AIPAC and the Republicans in Congress, to pressure Obama into torpedoing recognition of Palestine. He will give his usual spiel about Israel being in existential danger; he will talk about the nature of worldwide terror. Most of all, he will warn that Israel's existential legitimacy is under threat.
Paradoxically, if Netanyahu is indeed primarily concerned with Israel's legitimacy, he has a viable strategy at his disposal. Legal experts have pointed out that international recognition of a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders would entail Palestinians forfeiting any demands about Israeli territory within those borders.
Recognizing a Palestinian state within 1967 borders therefore would take care of what Netanyahu claims to be his deepest fear, and indeed what worries many Israelis: undermining the legitimacy of Israel's existence. For the first time since the 1947 UN resolution that recognized Jews' right to have a state here, Israel would have an internationally recognized border, and the truly existential fears could be laid to rest.
Therefore, the rational thing for Netanyahu to do during his visit to the United States is to ask President Obama to support UN recognition of a Palestinian state within 1967 borders-not only in the General Assembly, but in the Security Council as well-thus anchoring Israel's right to exist and its borders in international law.
Mr. Netanyahu will do nothing of the sort. He will argue that Fatah's reconciliation with Hamas makes any deal impossible. He will point out that Hamas doesn't recognize Israel's right to exist.
Of course Hamas is a problem, and I have no sympathy either for its terror tactics or for its rabid anti-Semitism and the primitive, fundamentalist language of its charter. But research shows that peace can never be achieved by leaving out a major player. Whether we like it or not, Hamas is an integral part of Palestinian society.
The smart way to deal with Hamas is to force it to change its position by strengthening Fatah's moderate line. Hamas is already under great pressure because of the ongoing changes in the Arab world: It may soon be bereft of any power base outside the Palestinian territories, hence its rush for reconciliation with Fatah. Fatah will be credited with international recognition of Palestine; and if Israel dramatically expands the areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority, this will further convince Palestinians that Hamas' hard-line policies are not in their best interests.
The problem is that Netanyahu has no motivation to maneuver Hamas into moderation, because an extremist Hamas is really Netanyahu's best friend.
A Hamas that moderates its stance and takes the way of the IRA, becoming a legitimate party in a peace process rather than a terror organization, is an existential threat to Netanyahu's political future. Without a hard-line Hamas, Netanyahu would be left with no case against a Palestinian state. He would have to face open conflict with the hard-line right-wingers in his own party, and in his coalition, by making actual moves towards peace.
Expect Netanyahu to do everything he can to torpedo recognition of Palestine; expect him to try to weaken Fatah, Abu Mazen and Salam Fayyad, and thus strengthen Hamas' extremist wing. As a result, Israel's legitimacy will indeed come under even more fire. But let's face it: This is good for Netanyahu. No right-wing politician ever stayed in power who didn't succeed in frightening his electorate to death.
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