Moment Of Truth
Netanyahu faces hard political questions and decisions.
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
ressed to take a firm stand on
the two-state solution, Benjamin
Netanyahu's moment of truth may
have come sooner than he wanted.
Despite strong international and domes-
ticiressure, Israel's prime minister-desig-
nate is refusing to come out in support of
the idea of two states for two peoples, Israel
and Palestine, living side by side in peace.
Ever since President Bush outlined his
vision of two states in June 2002, the two-
state solution has been consensus inter-
national policy and the basis for Israeli-
Palestinian peace talks.
Netanyahu's refusal to reaffirm Israel's
commitment to the two-state principle
leaves him out of step with the rest of the
international community. It also is likely
to cost him the chance of forming a more
Already the main international players
are ratcheting up pressure on Netanyahu
to back the two-state idea.
In an interview in advance of her
trip this week to the Middle East, U.S.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton
told Voice of America radio on Feb. 27 that
Washington would continue working "to
create an independent, viable Palestinian
state in both the West Bank and Gaza!'
A few days earlier, European Union
foreign ministers meeting in Brussels
insisted that the two-state solution was
"the only option!"
"We hope that the new Israeli govern-
ment will honor the obligations taken
by Israel under the 'road map' and at
Annapolis and refrain from measures
rendering a two-state solution impossible
said an official statement from the Czech
Kadima Party leader Tzipi Livni made
acceptance of the two-state idea a condi-
tion for joining Netanyahu's coalition.
"Two states is not an empty slogan:' she
said. "It's the only way Israel can remain
Jewish and fight terror!'
Even though he very much wants to see
Kadima in his government, Netanyahu
has made only vague promises to con-
tinue peace talks. In messages to world
leaders, he has pledged to honor commit-
March 5 • 2009
Benjamin Netanyahu: refuses to reaffirm
Israel's commitment to the two-state
ments by previous Israeli governments,
but has omitted any explicit references to
Netanyahu also has been very careful
in statements to the news media. Asked
specifically about the two-state solution in
an interview with the Washington Post, he
replied guardedly, "Substantively, I think
there is broad agreement inside Israel and
outside that the Palestinians should have
the ability to govern their lives but not to
In other words, yes to self-government
but not necessarily to statehood.
The obvious reason Netanyahu is tread-
ing so carefully is that he doesn't want to
alienate his hard-line potential coalition
partners before he has even a narrow,
right-wing government in place.
But his opposition to Palestinian
statehood goes much deeper. In fact,
Netanyahu is adopting very much the
same position he did during his first term
as prime minister, from 1996 to 1999. He
argued then that in any agreement with
Israel, the Palestinian entity would be so
severely restricted that it would be less
than a fully independent state. It would
not be allowed to have control over its air-
space, control border crossing points, raise
an army or enter into military pacts.
Netanyahu still holds these positions,
which he says are essential for Israel's
security. Therefore, he will not to commit
to full Palestinian statehood — a concept
he fears might erode some or most of
The Security Ante
The Likud leader also insists that for secu-
rity reasons, Israel must retain nearly 50
percent of the West Bank, including the
Jordan Valley. This, too, runs counter to the
international consensus notion of a "viable
and contiguous" Palestinian state.
While all other Israeli prime ministers
have dramatically changed their views
on Palestinian statehood in the decade
since Netanyahu was last prime minister,
Netanyahu appears to remain unwavering
in his opposition to Palestinian statehood.
In early 2002, when then-Prime
Minister Ariel Sharon, aware of Bush's
impending "vision speech; announced
his tentative acceptance of the two-state
idea, Netanyahu hurriedly convened the
Likud Central Committee to challenge
Sharon. In the ensuing ballot, Sharon was
humiliated. His proposal to defer the vote
on a Netanyahu-backed resolution that "no
Palestinians and not conceded up front as
Sharon, Olmert and Livni all have done.
But it is almost certainly too late
for such a gambit. Holding back on
Palestinian statehood when it has been
conceded by previous Israeli governments
is unlikely to fly in an international cli-
mate where the two-state goal long has
been taken for granted.
The stance could well bring Netanyahu
into conflict with the United States
and European Union. Worse, it could
lead to renewed confrontation with the
Palestinians, with Israel in the untenable
position of putting down a Palestinian
uprising for a two-state solution Israel
itself had previously accepted.
The same is true of Netanyahu's attempt
to turn back the clock on the issue of
West Bank territory. It's hard to see how
Netanyahu could offer the Palestinians
only 50 percent of the West Bank when
Ever since President Bush outlined his vision of
two states in June 2002, the two-state solution
has been consensus international policy and the
basis for Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
Palestinian state will be established west
of the Jordan" was defeated 696 to 465. As
Sharon left the podium to loud booing,
the Netanyahu measure was carried by a
nearly unanimous show of hands.
The vote, however, had no impact.
Sharon adopted the two-state solution and
his successor, Ehud Olmert, declared that
without it Israel "was finished?'
Ironically, at the time of the 2002 Likud
ballot, Netanyahu joined forces with the
hawkish Moshe Feiglin, whose far-right
Jewish leadership movement advocates
transfer of Israeli Arab citizens out of
Israel. But in this year's election, Netanyahu
pushed Feiglin down the party slate in a bid
to give Likud a more moderate image.
Some Netanyahu watchers suggest that
his position on Palestinian statehood may
only be tactical, designed to earn Israel a
better deal at the bazaar-like Middle East
bargaining table. In Netanyahu's view, they
say, statehood should come only at the end
of a negotiating process after being used
as a lever to acquire concessions from the
Olmert, Livni and Labor's Ehud Barak all
have offered well over 90 percent, with
land swaps for whatever areas Israel
annexes. This was also the U.S. position as
expressed in the December 2000 param-
eters set down by President Clinton.
It is partly because he realizes the
implications of his hard-line positions
that Netanyahu so desperately wants Livni
and/or Barak in his government.
If he doesn't back the two-state solu-
tion, they could serve as a fig leaf for his
government. If he does, they could provide
both the excuse to the right for his making
such a major concession and the political
support to see them through.
First, however, Netanyahu would have to
say the magic words and back two states.
If does he might lose the hawks, though
even Yisrael Beiteinu's Avigdor Lieberman
supports a two-state solution. If he doesn't,
he almost certainly will lose the doves.
Netanyahu is trapped, and in this
moment of truth there is nowhere for him
to hide. Fl