Why did Benjamin Netanyahu alter his stance and agree to a Palestinian state and the freezing of settlement construction? Was he only giving in to pressure from Barack Obama, or were there domestic reasons? Did his assessment of the situation alter since he returned to power, or is this that "same old Bibi," who simply got hold of a new list of slogans?
More than previous premiers, Netanyahu considers himself a leader and an intellectual. It is important to him that his policy rely on an extensive worldview, and he has written books presenting his political and economic viewpoints. It is, therefore, worthwhile listening to what Netanyahu has been saying in recent weeks in a series of speeches revealing his strategic outlook; they express deep fear of the threats facing Israel and introduce preferences for countering them.
This is Netanyahu's fear scale: "First, Iran must be prevented from developing a military nuclear capability. Second, we need to find an appropriate solution to the missile and rocket threat. And third, we must reinforce the right of Israel to defend itself."
What to do? Netanyahu wants the international community to rally and impose strict sanctions on Iran and undertake actions to undermine the regime. He is proposing a peace agreement with the Palestinians, based on territorial compromise in the territories and the establishment of "secure and recognized borders" for Israel. Central to the agreement would be security arrangements and disarmament aimed at blocking the smuggling of rockets and missiles into the West Bank. This is the main problem, from the prime minister's point of view, and it will not be resolved by agreeing on a peaceful border. The defense solution must combine effective means for securing the border and intercepting arms shipments into the territories, as well as the development of missile defense systems. Israel will also request international guarantees that "bypass Goldstone" and will be based on Israel's right to defend itself against terrorism.
Netanyahu estimates the security requirements will cost tens of billions of dollars, and for Israel not to collapse economically, it will need to retain annual growth of 4-5 percent. He thinks the money can be found in bureaucratic efficiency, privatization of state lands and incentives for high-tech industries and entrepreneurs. But economic reforms will not be enough. Netanyahu's security model relies on broadening Israel's dependency on the United States. The prime minister wants America to neutralize Iran, back it up in its effort to curb the smuggling of rockets, assist in the development of missile defense and take action to shelve the Goldstone report.
It is worthwhile paying attention to what is missing here: Netanyahu does not consider the settlements a component in the security of Israel. It is important for him to block the border against rockets, and maybe this will require the presence of a military force in the Jordan Valley. But the fact that Jewish settlements exist on the hills offers nothing. In his view, Elon Moreh does not protect Tel Aviv. This does not mean that he has decided to remove Itamar or Yitzhar, only that Obama's support is more important to him.
Netanyahu was not nurtured by the Yesha Council, and it is hard to recall his tours of settlements beyond the separation fence. He stopped at Ma'aleh Adumim and Ariel. The harsh criticism of him from the settler leaders, as a result of the building freeze, is not affecting his supporters the way it did Ariel Sharon. Netanyahu did not climb the hills with bulldozers like Sharon did, and did not sit with Zambish (Ze'ev Hever) to discuss maps and plans, but fought for the rights of Israel in television studios and at the United Nations and considers international support a lot more important than a few prefabricated houses. His support for settlers, in the argument with Obama over the freeze, centered on the call to allow them to have a normal life, not more growth.
During his speech at the Eilat journalism conference on Sunday, Netanyahu said: "The people in Israel and the Palestinians are tired of long-lasting war and want to reach a peace agreement." Like Menachem Begin, who went from "not a single inch" to "no more war," and like Yitzhak Rabin, who was shocked by the pathetic show of resolve among Tel Aviv residents during the Gulf War and opted for a compromise with the Palestinians, Netanyahu, too, understands that the majority of the Israeli public wants quiet and considers the settlers a nuisance. And this means the decision to freeze settlement construction for 10 months is just the first taste of domestic confrontation.
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