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Netanyahu`s false promises
By Henry Siegman
14 April 2009
Tony Blair, who now serves as the Middle East Quartet`s envoy, has told Time magazine he has concluded that the return to power of the newly elected Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu – universally seen as a near-fatal setback to prospects for a two-state solution – may be a blessing.
Blair informs us that he had a serious chat with Netanyahu in which it became clear that far from putting Palestinian statehood beyond reach, Netanyahu intends to become the father of the Palestinian nation. Like his friend George W Bush, Blair apparently looked into his interlocutor`s soul and concluded that this man aspires to nothing less than `to build the [Palestinian] state from the bottom up`.
Of course, there is the annoying matter that Netanyahu refuses to affirm his support for a two-state solution; indeed, Netanyahu considers a Palestinian state a plague to be avoided. However, Blair would like all of us to understand that `circumstances must be right` for Netanyahu before he can let the world in on his secret passion for Palestinian nation-building.
With all due respect, one has to wonder if Blair has lost all touch with Middle Eastern realities. If nothing else, he has repeatedly warned that Israel`s continuing encroachments on Palestinian land, the expansion of its settlements, and the damage to Palestinian economy and society wreaked by the more than 600 Israeli military checkpoints are destroying what hope remains for a two-state solution. Does he really believe that Netanyahu and his government will put an end to these practices while they go about rebuilding Palestinian statehood `from the ground up`, whatever that is supposed to mean?
What is particularly astonishing is Blair`s understanding of Netanyahu`s unwillingness to declare support for a Palestinian state until `circumstances become right`. Blair has given no indication he is willing to extend the same forbearance to Hamas for its refusal to affirm its recognition of the State of Israel until `circumstances become right`. Is this not a blatantly un-evenhanded approach to his mediation? Should not the same sanctions be applied to Netanyahu`s government for refusing to abide by previous agreements that are being applied by the Quartet to Hamas for that same transgression?
To be fair, Blair does not agree with every aspect of Quartet and US policy in Gaza. He has said that it does not work, and that he would like to see humanitarian help `in its broadest sense` allowed in. He has stressed that this means not just food and fuel but also help in rebuilding infrastructure and houses. But none of this begins to deal with the double standard that has been applied by the Quartet, not to speak of the Bush administration, to Israeli and Palestinian violations of past agreements and international law.
Palestinians have fallen dismally short in their efforts at nation-building and in fashioning the internal cohesion indispensable to their struggle for statehood. But the difficult measures they must take to put their house in order will remain beyond their grasp if they do not receive a credible commitment to viable statehood alongside Israel. An Israeli government that expressly refuses to provide such a commitment is not one that can end the conflict, much less rebuild the Palestinian state `from the ground up`.
Israel`s government can pose reasonable conditions for Palestinian statehood, but only after it has clearly recognised the Palestinian right to national self-determination, an acknowledgement that becomes meaningful only if Israel also accepts the Road Map`s requirement that no unilateral changes can be made in the pre-1967 border. Such adjustments can only come about as a result of a negotiated agreement. There is nothing in Netanyahu`s past, nor in his present pronouncements, to indicate that he intends to pay the slightest attention to this provision.
In that same interview in Time magazine, Blair stated that three elements are needed for a resolution of the conflict: a credible political negotiation for a two-state solution, a programme of major change on the West Bank, and an easing of the blockage in Gaza. `If we get those, we`ll be back in business again`, he said.
Netanyahu has made it clear that whatever else he envisages for the Palestinians, not one of these three elements is a part of it.
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