Netanyahu Can End the Occupation

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s announcement of the renewal of talks between Israel and the Palestinians is, of course, good news for both peoples. Kerry is to be lauded for his persistence, but his achievement is currently limited to the fact that negotiations are to start. The major tests still lie ahead. The ball is now in the court of the two parties, and the main responsibility for moving the talks ahead rests on Israel. Only Israel can put an end to the occupation, which is the key to everything else.

A fateful opportunity to bring change has now fallen to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It is an opportunity to advance peace, and to impress upon his third term a stamp of truly historic proportions. Netanyahu must not miss this opportunity. The Palestinians come to the table at a point when terror has almost completely ceased, with the most moderate and peace-seeking leadership they have ever had; there will never be a more moderate one than this. Netanyahu comes to the table with a declared commitment, albeit an unproven one, to work toward a two-state solution. This should, therefore, be a positive foundation on which to start the talks.

Netanyahu heads quite an extreme center-right government. But nothing will stand in his way if he does indeed decide to bring about an agreement. The prime minister wields a great deal of power. He has no rivals that could replace him at the moment, and the parliamentary opposition to his government would support any agreement. Much of public opinion would also support Netanyahu if he managed to reach a diplomatic agreement with the Palestinians. So he must not fear the threats of the extreme right − in his party and his government. If he wants to put his Bar-Ilan “two states” speech into action, he must not hide behind false excuses about the limitations of his power. If Netanyahu is truly determined to reach a historic agreement, he will put together a new coalition that will support his moves.

Netanyahu can do it. He heads one of the strongest and longest-serving governments Israel has ever had, and he must not fear the baseless, strident threats of some of his partners on the right. This is the last window of opportunity for an agreement based on a two-state solution. It must not be missed.

The question now before us is whether Netanyahu wants to, not whether he can. He will have to provide the answer in the near future. If he wants to, nothing can stand in his way. If he does not, it would be a pity for him to go into another round of talks, the failure of which would be a foregone conclusion and the outcome of which would portend disaster for both peoples.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the weekly gov't conference in Jerusalem. May 24th, 2013.Credit: Emil Salman

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