By Nicola Nasser*
In his speech at Bar Ilan University on June 14, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu proposed a new Israeli "peace plan," with preconditions that a Palestinian negotiator must first meet before he would "promptly" engage in "unconditional" bilateral talks to meet an international consensus demanding the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. His preconditions added to the fourteen conditions the former Israeli government of comatose Ariel Sharon attached to Israel's adoption in grudge of the 2003 Road Map blueprint for peace with the Palestinian side, on the basis of which the U.S. administration of President Barack Obama and his presidential envoy George Mitchell are now urging an early resumption of "immediate" Israeli Palestinian peace talks, which Mitchell on June 26 hoped "very much to conclude this phase of the discussions and to be able to move into meaningful and productive negotiations in the near future."
Sharon's conditional approval of the Road Map has condemned the blueprint as a non-starter, led to the Israeli military reoccupation of the Palestinian autonomous areas, aborted former U.S. President George W. Bush's promise to Palestinians to have their own state twice in 2005 and 2008, and doomed the twenty -year peace process since the Madrid conference in 1991 to the current impasse that Obama and Mitchell are trying to break through. It is a forgone conclusion that Netanyahu's preconditions -- Palestinian recognition of Israel as a "Jewish state," "demilitarization" of the prospective Palestinian less-than-a-sovereign state and preserving Israel's illegitimate "right" to expand its illegal colonial Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories -- will fare worse than Sharon's conditions.
Netanyahu demanded that the "Palestinian population," and not the Palestinian people -- who live "in Judea and Samaria," and not in the Israeli occupied Palestinian territory, where there is an "Israeli presence," and not an Israeli military occupation -- should first agree to a "public, binding and unequivocal" recognition that Israel is "the nation state of the Jewish people" worldwide, and not the nation state of the Israelis. His demand was an arrogant precondition ridiculed by Gideon Levy in Haaretz on June 15 as an "excessive demand that Palestinians recognize the Jewish state by one who has failed to recognize the Palestinians as a people," sarcastically welcomed the next day by Ma'ariv's chief political columnist, Ben Caspit, who wrote: "Welcome, Mr. Prime Minister, to the 20th century. The problem is that we're already in the 21st." Moreover, such a precondition "is almost humiliating and it is unlikely to be met," by the Palestinian Authority (PA), according to Avi Issacharoff, writing in Haaretz on June 17.
Israeli analyst M.J. Rosenberg wrote on June 19: Acceptance of Israel as a "Jewish state" is a non-starter at this point. And Netanyahu knows it. If that is a precondition for negotiations, there will be no negotiations. But without any definition of borders and with Netanyahu committed to expanding settlements in the West Bank, how can anyone seriously expect Palestinians to recognize Israel as a "Jewish state?" Aaron David Miller, a former senior U.S. negotiator in the Mideast, said Netanyahu's speech "was less about pursuing Arab-Israeli peace and much more about pursuing the U.S.-Israeli relationship."
PA's Prime Minister in Ramallah, Salam Fayyad, noted in a speech at Al-Quds (Jerusalem) University on June 22 that his Israeli counterpart's speech missed all reference to the Road Map blueprint as well as to the thorny issue of expanding settlements and described the speech as "a new blow to efforts to salvage the peace process." Head of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)'s department of negotiations affairs, Saeb Erakat, condemned Netanyahu's speech as a "non-starter." Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas urged the international community to isolate him and his government. His Egyptian counterpart, Hosni Mubarak, a close ally of Abbas and the U.S. and Israel's 30-year unwavering peace partner, said Netanyahu's precondition "aborts the chance for peace," although he declined to heed Abbas' call for the isolation of Netanyahu and received him and others of his cabinet. Al-Baath, the mouthpiece of Syria's ruling party, commented: "Netanyahu has confirmed that he rejects the Arab initiative for peace." In an editorial on June 16, the Saudi Arabian English daily, "Arab News," said his speech was "a challenge to the world community." Walid Jumblat, a leading figure of the March 14 bloc, which recently won the Lebanese elections, lambasted the speech as dragging the region into a "dangerous stage" and one that "completely crippled" any possibility to reach a peace settlement, adding that, "any talk about Israel as a Jewish state means closing the file on the (Palestinian right of) return," on which there is a consensus among rival Lebanese factions to reject the resettlement of half a million Palestinian refugees hosted by Lebanon since 1948.
However Obama and Mitchell insensitively ignored all negative Palestinian and Arab reactions, repeatedly and on record renamed Israel as the "Jewish" State of Israel, with Obama lightly trying to defuse the explosiveness of Netanyahu's demand by stating that it was "exactly what negotiations are supposed to be about," because "this is what both America and Europe are asking," according to Italian foreign minister Franco Frattini.
Angrily describing Netanyahu as a "swindler" who plays "tricks" with peace making, Yasser Abed Rabbo, secretary general of the PLO's executive committee, said the Israeli premier wants Palestinians to "become Zionists." Mere heartfelt commitment to Zionism will not be enough, however, Hasan and Ali Abunimah wrote in The Electronic Intifada on June 17, for the Palestinians' conversion to have "practical meaning," Netanyahu explained, "there must also be a clear understanding that the Palestinian refugee problem will be resolved outside Israel's borders." In other words, "Palestinians must agree to help Israel complete the ethnic cleansing it began in 1947-48, by abandoning the right of return," Abunimah brothers added.
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*Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist in Kuwait, Jordan, UAE and Palestine. He is based in Ramallah, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories.