Needed: More Than Gestures

Netanyahu has not even begun to prepare the Israeli public opinion for the possibility of an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank.

The package of confidence-building measures that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu intends to offer the Palestinians raises questions. At first glance, it suggests a change in direction. It includes removing roadblocks, transferring to Palestinian control a parcel of land in order to build a road to the Palestinian city of Rawabi and, above all, transferring the responsibility for security in several West Bank towns from the Israel Defense Forces to the Palestinian Authority. The proposed measures are aimed at bolstering PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad's control of the West Bank. But in practice it more closely resembles camouflage netting whose purpose is to conceal Israel's avoidance of any responsibility in the peace process.

Had this offer come a year ago, shortly after Netanyahu declared his adoption of the two-state solution, it could have been viewed with seriousness and credibility. But the gap that developed between Netanyahu and PA President Mahmoud Abbas, the move to proximity talks after years of direct talks and especially the fact that the latest offer is a response to American pressure make one suspect that Netanyahu is still trying to cling to his old policy. In other words, that he is willing to offer confidence-building gestures and measures so long as he does not have to talk about any issue of substance.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York

Abbas and the PA are wise to the wiles of Israeli governments, and we can assume that they will not fall for offers that lack purpose and content. But it's not only the Palestinians' trust that Netanyahu must gain; the Israeli public, too, is far from convinced that he and his government are willing to do what is necessary to progress toward serious negotiations, not to mention peace.

Israel has not declared its willingness to discuss the core issues such as determining borders, the status of Jerusalem, a fair resolution to the refugee problem and the status of the settlements. Netanyahu has also not made clarified his position on extending the freeze on construction in the settlements, which he must do by September. And he has not even begun to prepare the Israeli public opinion for the possibility of an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank.

The steps Netanyahu is proposing are not policy nor a substitute for it. He cannot ignore his commitment to the peace process and attempt, once again, to portray the Palestinians as the ones refusing peace.