Netanyahu: Masking an Upcoming Conflict

By Abdelrahman Rashdan  

"When the forces approached us … I still remember .. we were sitting – me, my father, my mother, my older brother, my two sisters – in the lower story of our house and my father looked at us and said:

You know guys, just go … go!
Where to go?
He said: just go …

He gave everyone of us 10 Palestinian pounds and he said .. just go .. — Just imagine how parents tell their youngest boy to just go .. but where to, they didn’t know.

It was so terrifying …My parents didn’t want to see us killed or to see my sisters rapped at the reputation of the Zionist forces that were spreading around.

… and the story starts from there," Naji Farah, telling his own story, was among the hundreds of thousands who were expelled from their homes in 1948 to become refugees in neighboring Arab countries and scattered all over the world.

Prime Minister Netanyahu is now telling Farah, stay in Canada, your problem can only be solved "outside of the borders of the State of Israel".

In his anticipated speech on Sunday, June 14, 2009 in Bar Ilan University, Netanyahu laid clearly his vision for the peace process in the Middle East. Unfortunately, it fell short of all expectations and hopes from the Arab and Palestinian side.

Matrix of Pressures

Netanyahu was stuck with the several parties playing pressure on his government, all at the same time, with many of them asking for contradicting demands.

US President Obama clearly demanded the Israeli government — in his address to the Muslim World — to accept the two-state solution, freeze settlements building, and allow Jerusalem (Al-Quds) to be for all religions.

At the same time, the now-popular right-wing Zionist movements in Israel had their own expectations. The Palestinian Right of Return was out of question, same as Jerusalem; it is seemingly a one-state-solution that can only work; and expansion of settlements is to be a guaranteed right for the Israeli side.

A third party was the Palestinian side represented in the West Bank, Mahmoud Abbas’ government, as for Israel, Hamas is already out of the game. Under the center-left former Livini government, Gaza, including Hamas and its civilian population, was dealt with as a hostile territory and deserved only war; such a war was considered by Netanyahu not harsh enough to counter Hamas.

President Abbas has been expecting much out of Netanyahu’s speech, especially with the noticed collaboration his government has been offering the Israeli side recently. The Palestinian Authority was expecting a declaration of the complete halt of settlement construction and the establishment of a sovereign and independent Palestinian state, as part of the Road Map.

At the same time, Arabs had their initiative ready for the Israeli feedback.

Netanyahu did not miss anyone. He failed almost every party to an extent.

The Moderate Conservative

Trying to play a moderate in front of the American administration — especially that his memories with Obama are not pleasant — and a conservative for his government, party, and Knesset, Netanyahu came out with a deformed speech. It carried a piece for everyone but a cake for no one.

The word "peace" was mentioned in his speech 45 times, first word to start with and the last to pass to his audience.

Netanyahu wants Palestinians to recognize a Jewish Israel and get their state to "live side by side in true peace"; "in my vision of peace … no army, no control of air space [for a Palestinian state]… The Palestinians cannot make military treaties"; in reference to the natural expansion of settlements: "There is a need to have people live normal lives and let mothers and fathers raise their children like everyone in the world. The settlers are not enemies of peace"; "the Palestinians must decide between path of peace and path of Hamas"; and finally, "justice and logic dictates that the problem of the Palestinian refugees must be solved outside the borders of the State of Israel."

It seems that Netanyahu chose to offer a right-wing policy wrapped in "peace" to be carried out to the White House.

After an overall commendation for Netanyahu’s speech, the White House started to talk about the details, which was not as pleasing. "It’s going to be a complicated negotiation," State Department spokesman commented. In addition, US officials are not satisfied with a "demilitarized" Palestinian state and doubt a Palestinian positive feedback.

The Palestinians came out to not only criticize the nature of the proposed state but almost all Netanyahu’s points. "Netanyahu’s speech was a right-wing speech that destroyed the basis for negotiations when it talked of a unified Jerusalem, removing the refugee issue from the talks, and recognizing a Jewish state," an aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told Ynet on Sunday. Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said the Israeli prime minister "failed to meet the expectations of the international community" along with the Road Map that Israel has voluntarily signed in 2003.

Internally, 51 percent of Israelis think that Netanyahu gave in to the American pressures, according to a recent survey published in the Ha’aretz Daily. Members of the Netanyahu’s right-wing party, Likud, liked the speech only has it not been for the mentioning of the Palestinian state. "I will attempt to cause this sentence, which was said under American pressure, never to come into being. The speech was brilliant, but Netanyahu has given in to American pressure," MK Danny Danon said.

Losing Peace Partners

At the same time, Arab governments went publicly against the content of the speech.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak also said that calling for a Jewish identity for Israel "increases the complexity of the matter (of achieving peace) and aborts the chance for peace," he added, "the call to amend the Arab peace initiative by dropping the right of return (of Palestinian refugees) would not lead to engagement from Egypt or elsewhere."

Syrian state-controlled newspaper Tishrin said that Netanyahu is offering "Palestinian cantons reminiscent of the black people’s cantons in South Africa when the racist regime was in power."

Following its initial rejection of the Israeli policy announced in the speech, the Arab League is going to negotiate a united reply in the meeting of the Arab foreign ministers this month.

Prime Minister Netanyahu did bring together some keywords to send separate messages to many parties, yet when bringing all words together in one speech they showed an ugly face of a stumbling Israeli government. The real conflict now behind the scenes is between the Zionist Israeli right-wing and Obama’s administration, which Netanyahu’s mask do not seem to play well in.

Arabs and Palestinians — Abbas’ party — are waiting to pick up spoils of a conflict that is originally theirs yet not being part of.

– Abdelrahman Rashdan is a staff writer for the Politics in Depth section of A graduate of the American University in Cairo, he holds a BA in political science with a specialization in political economy and international relations. He contributed this article to (Published in, June 16, 2009)

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