Every time Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu starts making moderate statements, people pin their hopes on him. But until now, these hopes have proven false. In recent days, he has once again started singing songs of goodwill, but the burden of proof is on him. So long as what he means by “two states for two peoples” remains vague, Israel will have a diplomatic problem and be unable to break out of its ever-increasing isolation.
Over the past four years, since negotiations with the Palestinians stopped, Netanyahu has talked the talk, but he hasn’t walked the walk. He has persisted in his demand for talks without preconditions, but continues to expand the settlements. It’s hard to see how one can advance a dialogue when the settlement enterprise continues to establish facts on the ground.
Sometimes it seems as if Netanyahu is simply paying lip service to the international community, particularly to the United States. Even his recent conciliatory statements could be interpreted as an effort to placate U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry before his arrival this week. The prime minister said that if Kerry pitches a tent between Jerusalem and Ramallah, he will come and stay there until white smoke comes out. But the prospects for white smoke don’t look very good right now.
Moreover, we’re now starting to have doubts not just about Netanyahu’s desire, but also about his ability. It’s not at all certain that he has a majority in his government for a diplomatic initiative, and his rivals are even poised to take control of his own party. His foot-dragging may turn out to have been fatal, as it may now be too late.
This is probably the last opportunity for an Israeli-Palestinian-American dialogue before all diplomatic and security hell breaks loose. To give these negotiations a chance, they must be based on acceptance of the 1967 borders, with land swaps, and a willingness to compromise on Jerusalem, with Jewish neighborhoods going to Israel, Arab ones to the Palestinians and the holy basin, including the Temple Mount, delivered to an agreed-upon international trustee.
Instead of trying to guess what the Palestinians’ intentions are and what Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is secretly wishing, it would be better to examine the motives and desires of the Israeli government. The government will be judged by its opening positions in the renewed negotiations, not by its declarations. Its credit has run out.
Even many ardent opponents of the two-state solution, such as Habayit Hayehudi chairman Naftali Bennett, have announced their support for “restarting the negotiations,” in the hope that they will fail. It’s up to Netanyahu to prove that he doesn’t plan merely to restart the talks, but also to pursue them seriously.