Netanyahu’s Never-ending Excuse for Opposing a Two-state Solution

His argument has been the same for over 20 years: you can’t trust the Palestinians to act peacefully.

Peter Beinart
Peter Beinart
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is accompanied by female IDF soldiers during a tour of the Jordan Valley, March 8, 2011.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is accompanied by female IDF soldiers during a tour of the Jordan Valley, March 8, 2011.Credit: Moshe Milner / GPO
Peter Beinart
Peter Beinart

In case you missed it, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remains deeply committed to the two-state solution. Sure, he said in the final days of his reelection campaign that “anyone who moves to establish a Palestinian state and evacuate territory gives territory away to radical Islamist attacks against Israel." But that doesn’t mean he opposes a Palestinian state. He’s just reluctantly deferring the dream of one because of circumstances outside of his control. “What has changed is the reality,” Bibi told Andrea Mitchell. “Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] refuses to recognize the Jewish state, has made a pact with Hamas that calls for the destruction of the Jewish state and every territory that is vacated today in the Middle East is taken up by Islamist forces.” Bibi’s man in Washington, Ron Dermer, added that “He is committed to a vision of peace, of two states for two peoples. A demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state of Israel. What has changed is the circumstances over the last few years.”

This is wildly unconvincing. When Bibi and Dermer say a Palestinian state has become impractical because of Abbas’ pact with Hamas, his refusal to recognize Israel as “a Jewish state” and the rise of Islamism in the Middle East, they’re implying that in a previous era, before these unfortunate events, they thought a Palestinian state should be established right away.

But there was no such era. Bibi’s opposition to Palestinian statehood dates to at least 1978, before Hamas even existed. In 1993, before Israeli leaders were even asking Palestinians to recognize Israel “as a Jewish state” (as opposed to simply recognizing Israel), Bibi warned that “to subdivide this land into two unstable, insecure nations, to try to defend what is indefensible, is to invite disaster.” In 1998, long before violent jihadists controlled chunks of Syria and Iraq, Bibi told the Jerusalem Report, “I do not believe such a [Palestinian] state is a historic imperative Nor do I think Israel can achieve peace only by establishing a Palestinian state. On the contrary, I am convinced that such a state will endanger Israel and cause war.”

Bibi opposed a Palestinian state when he ran for prime minister in 2009, even though Hamas and Fatah had not yet signed a unity deal, and ISIS had not yet been born. In May of that year, Dermer — the very aide who now insists that Bibi remains “committed to a vision of peace, of two states for two peoples” — himself said that “Two states for two peoples is a stupid and childish solution to a very complex problem.”

The truth is that while much has changed in the Middle East over the past few decades, Netanyahu’s skepticism about a Palestinian state has remained remarkably constant. Yes, under pressure from the United States and Europe he ostensibly embraced Palestinian statehood in a June 2009 speech at Bar Ilan University. But if read that speech, it becomes clear that Bibi was just as dubious about the practicality of a Palestinian state then as he is now. Egypt and Jordan, he declared at Bar Ilan, had overcome their hostility to Israel but “to our deep regret, this is not happening with the Palestinians. The closer we get to a peace agreement with them, the more they are distancing themselves from peace. They raise new demands. They are not showing us that they want to end the conflict. A great many people are telling us that withdrawal is the key to peace with the Palestinians. But the fact is that all our withdrawals were met by huge waves of suicide bombers.” Netanyahu’s current excuses for why the time isn’t right for a Palestinian state — the rise of ISIS, the Fatah-Hamas pact and Abbas’ refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state during John Kerry’s 2014 peace bid — were absent from his Bar Ilan speech because those events had not yet occurred. But his basic argument — that Israel can’t allow a Palestinian state because the Palestinians can’t be trusted to act peacefully — is the same one he’s making now.

Bibi has never believed it was the right time to create a Palestinian state — not in 1993, 1998, 2009 or 2015. He acknowledged as much last July when he said “the Israeli people understand now what I always say: that there cannot be a situation, under any agreement, in which we relinquish security control of the territory west of the River Jordan.” What I always say. As Haaretz editor-in-chief Aluf Benn has observed, Netanyahu’s “opposition to a Palestinian state is also a matter of principle, one he has held for many years.”

Bibi, who often chides the media for its lack of historical memory, is now depending on that lack of memory. Because if more American journalists knew that for decades he’s been making virtually the same argument about the impracticality of a Palestinian state that he’s making now, they’d see that his current public relations blitz is both cynical and absurd. Which, indeed, it is.



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