President Shimon Peres does not miss an opportunity to whisper to anyone who happens to be nearby that he has no doubt that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is serious about peace with the Palestinians. Of course, the president can't go into detail, but take his word for it. They say U.S. President Barack Obama is also convinced that Netanyahu is not deceiving him.
But the important talks between the U.S. president and the prime minister took place in private. Even the people who write the minutes remained outside. Israel's diplomatic-security chiefs, including the forum of seven senior ministers, admit they have no idea whether the favorite son of the original right-wing Revisionists has really decided to establish Palestine.
If Netanyahu emerges from the negotiating room with a final-status agreement, I promise to cheer him and even apologize for casting doubt on his declarations of peace. In the meantime, I don't believe he means what he said in his Bar-Ilan University speech about two states for two peoples, and that what he said at the Washington summit is what he plans to do at the Sharm el-Sheikh summit. So far he has only paid lip service to peace. Likud's hawks are not getting upset by his speeches, nor are his coalition partners hastening to part company from him. Apparently they don't believe him.
The politician who did more than any other Israeli to destroy the Oslo Accords in Israeli public opinion certainly knows that compared to a final-status agreement with the Palestinians, that document that did not move a single settlement from its place will look like a standard rental contract. If Netanyahu really does intend to sign an agreement within a year to withdraw from the territories, how is it possible he is not preparing public opinion for that tsunami? We can expect a trauma like Israeli society has not experienced since the Yom Kippur War.
It's true that the agreement will let Israel evacuate the territories gradually and according to a reasonable timetable, postponing the physical confrontation with the settlers and their supporters on the right. But there is no postponing a presentation of the new partition map and the resulting public and political battle.
Without a map we won't know which settlements are designated for annexation and are therefore entitled to construction permits and public funds, and for which settlers we have to prepare a roof over their heads and an absorption basket. After all, we can't decide on security arrangements in Palestine without defining its area of jurisdiction. And how will the Palestinians be able to recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people without drawing the line where this state ends and the Palestinian state begins?
In the best (and unlikely ) case that the Palestinians will agree to give up the Ariel panhandle in a land swap and postpone a solution for Jerusalem (which is hard to believe ), the map of the final-status agreement will in effect be an evacuation order for more than 90,000 settlers living in 96 settlements. About two-thirds of them belong to the ideological hard core of generations of Gush Emunim members. This comes on top of 50 outposts with a population of about 3,000. The other settlements are for the most part scattered along the Jordan Valley, a region the public has been told for years is Israel's "security border."
For us to believe he is willing within a year to sign a historic agreement that will oblige us to transfer more than 90 percent of the West Bank to the Palestinians, Netanyahu must make a modest down payment. Instead of bargaining with Obama about a partial and temporary construction freeze in the settlements, why not transfer to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas the settlement areas in northern Samaria that Israel evacuated as part of the disengagement plan?
He could also transfer to the Palestinians a certain percentage of the extensive territories of Area C that Israel is keeping for expanding the settlements. A monitored opening of East Jerusalem to residents of the West Bank could also be a confidence-building measure toward the Palestinians and help skeptical Israelis believe his ostensibly peaceful intentions.
It is very important that Israel's president believes Netanyahu. Of course, we shouldn't make light of a trusting relationship between the prime minister and the U.S. president. It's vital, but not enough. We also deserve a prime minister we can believe.
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