By Aaron Marcus l June 1, 2011
Less than a week after President Obama revealed a new U.S. strategy for Middle East relations, Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu addressed a joint session of Congress. In a speech widely hailed as a transition from typical Israeli adherence to American demands, Netanyahu made it clear that there will be peace in the region when President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Territories declares six simple words, “I will accept a Jewish State.” These six words have been the underlying roadblock to true peace between Israel and the Palestinians, highlighting seven decades of conflict.
In his May 24th address, Netanyahu focused on two major concerns. The first, a growing possibility of a nuclear Iran and the insurmountable threat it would pose to Israel and the West. The second and perhaps more prevalent issue at the moment was a call for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. One that would eventually result in a Palestinian State alongside a Jewish state of Israel. These two major questions have unfortunately been a rallying cry for the state of Israel for almost two decades. When Netanyahu first addressed the U.S. Congress in the summer of 1996 he focused on similar issues that included a commitment to Israeli-Palestinian peace and a halt to Iranian nuclear ambitions. While the Syrian government was funding Hezbollah in 1996 and there was general discontent between the Arab and Muslim world against Israel at the time, Netanyahu stated:
“The most dangerous of these regimes is Iran that has wed a cruel despotism to a fanatic militancy. If this regime, or its despotic neighbor Iraq, were to acquire nuclear weapons, this could presage catastrophic consequences, not only for my country, and not only for the Middle East, but for all mankind.”
For more than 15 years, Israel has pressed the United States to take a thorough stand against the Ayatollahs in Iran. While the United States and international community have sanctioned Iran over that period, in his address last week, Netanyahu stressed that he feared time was running out to stop the Iranians from achieving their nuclear goal. He stated that only one time during this period had Iran halted their nuclear ambition and that was in 2003 when they “feared the possibility of military action.” It just so happens to be that the same year, Muammar Gaddafi gave up his nuclear weapons program for the same reason. Netanyahu continued, “The more Iran believes that all options are on the table, the less the chance of confrontation.” Unfortunately, President Obama has put the issue of Iran on the backburner while the country tries to climb out of a recession; yet, the threat to Israel is now stronger than ever.
Remarkably, Obama has come a long way since his declaration as a presidential candidate that Iran did not pose a serious threat to the United States. He has imposed new sanctions that have considerably halted Iran’s quest to gain nuclear weapons but still refuses to state publically that the United States will not allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons. In the summer of 2010 the House of Representatives and the Senate passed the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Divestment Act (CISADA), which was signed into law by President Obama. The Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act of 2009 (IRPSA) further extends U.S. sanctions on Iran and punishes companies and individuals involved with Iran’s petroleum industry. While Netanyahu applauded American efforts to thwart Iran’s harmful ambitions, he urged the President and Congress “to send an unequivocal message: That America will never permit Iran to develop nuclear weapons.”
As Netanyahu praised the United States for its previous support of Israel, the rest of his speech would represent Israel’s firm plan on everlasting peace in their region. While Iran may pose an imminent danger to Israel’s existence, the international community and the United States, particularly under the Obama administration, have become increasingly hostile toward Israel and her quest for peace in the Middle East. Rather than take a back seat and fold to international pressure, Netanyahu stood firmly on past statements and historical evidence that the only thing needed for peace is an Arab movement willing to have peace, he said:
“In 1947, the United Nations voted to partition the land into a Jewish state and an Arab state. The Jews said yes. The Palestinians said no. In recent years, the Palestinians twice refused generous offers by Israeli Prime Ministers, to establish a Palestinian state on virtually all the territory won by Israel in the Six Day War. They were simply unwilling to end the conflict. And I regret to say this: They continue to educate their children to hate. They continue to name public squares after terrorists. And worst of all, they continue to perpetuate the fantasy that Israel will one day be flooded by the descendants of Palestinian refugees.”
Netanyahu made clear that peace can be obtained but that Israel will not make all of the concessions in an agreement. He declared that Jerusalem must remain the undivided capital of the state of Israel, that any Palestinian State must be demilitarized and that final borders will contain large Jewish settlements within the West Bank.
“It is time for President Abbas to stand before his people and say… ‘I will accept a Jewish state.’ Those six words will change history. They will make clear to the Palestinians that this conflict must come to an end. That they are not building a state to continue the conflict with Israel, but to end it. They will convince the people of Israel that they have a true partner for peace. With such a partner, the people of Israel will be prepared to make a far-reaching compromise. I will be prepared to make a far-reaching compromise.”
Many have made claims that statements like this by Netanyahu are detrimental to Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. That they show unwillingness by Israel to make adequate concessions for peace, but history proves otherwise. It is almost a proven fact between Israel and Arab countries that unilateral land concessions do not work. In 2000, Israel pulled out of Southern Lebanon only to be bombarded with missiles from Hezbollah. In 2005 Israel removed all Israeli settlers from Jewish settlements in the Gaza strip only to be relentlessly attacked by Qassam rockets on a daily basis. Netanyahu exhorted Congress:
“Peace must be anchored in security. In recent years, Israel withdrew from South Lebanon and Gaza. But we didn’t get peace. Instead, we got 12,000 rockets fired from those areas on our cities, on our children, by Hezbollah and Hamas. The UN peacekeepers in Lebanon failed to prevent the smuggling of this weaponry. The European observers in Gaza evaporated overnight. So if Israel simply walked out of the territories, the flow of weapons into a future Palestinian state would be unchecked. Missiles fired from it could reach virtually every home in Israel in less than a minute.”
While Iran and Syria funnel weapons and supplies to Hamas and Hezbollah, why should Israel take a risk with further hostile groups? Israel has seen nothing from the Palestinian people that unilateral land concessions will lead to peace. While today’s Palestinian government may accept Israel, tomorrow’s government may not. These are constant threats Israel must take seriously. All it would take is one hostile government and Israel’s very existence would be in jeopardy.
“So it is therefore absolutely vital for Israel’s security that a Palestinian state be fully demilitarized. And it is vital that Israel maintain a long-term military presence along the Jordan River. Solid security arrangements on the ground are necessary not only to protect the peace, they are necessary to protect Israel in case the peace unravels. For in our unstable region, no one can guarantee that our peace partners today will be there tomorrow. And when I say tomorrow, I don’t mean some distant time in the future. I mean — tomorrow.”
Israel has been lucky enough to achieve peace with both Egypt and Jordan, two nations once hostile to its very existence. They did so through mutual agreed upon land concession and open economic and political support.
The Palestinian Authority (PA) on the other hand has entered into an agreement with Hamas, a terrorist organization that does not recognize Israel and vows to murder innocent Israelis and Jews around the world. Netanyahu is right to tell the Palestinians that peace with Israel cannot exist if the Palestinian Authority wants to align with Hamas. They must decide, terror or peace.
This is not a new “demand” rather a vital aspect of the Oslo Accords enacted in 1993. The Oslo Accords were mutually agreed upon requirements signed by Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) President Yasser Arafat and American President Bill Clinton that were the basis for “final status” negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Israel was ordered to withdraw from parts of Gaza and the West Bank while recognizing the Palestinian Authority as a legal body representing the Palestinian people. The PLO in return would recognize Israel’s right to exist and would renounce violence and terrorism as well as calls for the destruction of the Jewish State. Before any negotiations about final status commenced, both sides signed an agreement to meet the Oslo requirements. While the Oslo Accords had hoped for this process of final status negotiations to begin by 1996, today this binding resolution between the PA and Israel is still legal precedent since no other agreement has been signed since.
Israel recognized the PLO as the governing body of the Palestinians, withdrew from Gaza and parts of the West Bank all in accordance with their part of the Oslo Accords. While the Palestinian Authority has recognized Israel’s right to exist they have failed to renounce violence and terrorism as they constantly honor and commemorate former terrorists who killed Israelis. Furthermore their recent acceptance of Hamas as a viable organization representative of the Palestinian people can perhaps renege on their recognition of Israel and could be seen as a new call for its destruction.
In his address to Congress in 1996, Netanyahu said all that was needed for Israeli-Palestinian peace rested on three pillars: security, reciprocity and democracy. He said:
“Our negotiating partners, and indeed all the regimes of the region, must make a strategic choice — either follow the option of terror as an instrument of policy, of diplomacy, or follow the option of peace. They cannot have it both ways…. Reciprocity means that every line in every agreement turns into a sinew of reconciliation. Reciprocity means that an agreement must be kept by both sides. Reciprocity is the glue of mutual commitments, that upholds agreements…. The third pillar of lasting peace is democracy and human rights. I am not revealing a secret to the members of this chamber, when I say that modern democracies do not initiate aggression. This has been the central lesson of the twentieth century. States that respect the human rights of their citizens are not likely to provoke hostile action against their neighbors.”
Both in 1996 and again in 2011 simple demands from the PA that they recognize Israel’s right to exist and condemn violence have been met by their leaders with deaf ears. While Mahmoud Abbas’s predecessor Yasser Arafat signed the Oslo Accords, the demands of the Palestinians have consistently grown larger. From most of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, along with some sort of right-of-return to all of Gaza, West Bank and East Jerusalem, including the Old City and complete right-of-return. Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for Abbas, said by telephone to the New York Times, “This is not going to lead to any solution,” in reference to Netanyahu’s speech. “Not only is he saying no Jerusalem and no return of refugees and keeping his soldiers along the Jordan, but he is demanding that we tear up our accord with Hamas. We will never accept an Israeli presence in the Palestinian state,” He said. It should also be noted that Abbas was a chief negotiator of Yasser Arafat and has worked closely with Israel on numerous peace agreements, all to no avail.
Clearly, the recent calls by Netanyahu for a peaceful Palestinian State rooted in Israeli and Palestinian security are nothing new. Rather they are the pipe dream of every Israeli head of state since Menachem Begin and have sadly been met with hostile leaders on the Palestinian side. Land concessions and the right-of-return only get you so far and Israel is willing to negotiate those terms with the Palestinians. But first the PA must deal with reality and understand that Israel will not put its citizens into a hostile environment with indefensible borders. Furthermore and most importantly, the PA needs to rid itself of Hamas and terrorist organizations, condemn violence and accept that Israel has a right to exist as a Jewish state. Unless they can achieve this basic goal, peace in the region will indefinitely remain a pipe dream.
Aaron Marcus is a graduate of the National Journalism Center having served his internship as an editorial assistant at The Washington Times. He is currently a columnist for The Daily Targum at Rutgers University where he is an undergraduate student. Mr. Marcus is a contributor to