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Netanyahu’s Diplomacy

Saturday 25 April 2009, by Sergio Yahni

As the new Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, prepares his visit to the White House next month, his government’s diplomatic perspectives begin to be revealed.

The government as well as the Israeli public believe that relations with Europe and the U.S. will not face major challenges despite the new rhetoric in Washington and the demand that Israel will recognize the principle of “two states for two peoples. “

According to Avigdor Lieberman, the Obama Administration will put forth new peace initiatives only if Israel wants it to.

"Believe me, America accepts all our decisions," Lieberman told the Russian daily Moskovskiy Komosolets

These declarations reflect the Israeli public’s expectation that the new government will maintain a good relationship with the Obama-led U.S. administration when it comes to advancing Israeli-Palestinian peace.

However, according to a poll conducted by the Tel Aviv University in March, most Israelis expect Washington to pressure Israel harshly if it does not cooperate in advancing the negotiations.

The political community in Israel expects the same.

As a preemptive measure, Netanyahu conditions the adoption of the principle of “two states for two peoples” on the Palestinian Authority first recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, knowing it will be unable to do so.

The Palestinian Authority was established in 1993 following the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s (PLO) recognition of the “right of Israel to exist in peace and security.”

The PLO recognized Israel’s right to exist under the understanding that the objective of the negotiations is the creation of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Although Israel never recognized or ratified this objective, Netanyahu’s demand that the Palestinians will recognize Israel as Jewish not only seems improper to Palestinian negotiation, but also presets the terms of the final agreement regarding all issues dealing with Palestinian refugees.

Moreover, according to Haaretz columnists Aluf Ben and Barak Rabid, Netanyahu is also seeking to come to an agreement with the United States defining certain "limitations on sovereignty" to be imposed on any future Palestinian entity. This includes prohibiting it from maintaining an armed forces or forging military agreements or alliances, and would grant Israel the right to continue monitoring the external borders, airspace and electromagnetic spectrum of this Palestinian entity.

It is hard to imagine that Palestinian leaders will accept to recognize Israel as a Jewish state in exchange for a non-fully sovereign Palestinian state.

Ben and Rabid claim that in the face of possible pressure from Obama, the prime minister’s demands aim to mobilize support from the Israeli public and from the U.S. Congress for his position. The principle of a "Jewish state" enjoys wide support among relevant sectors of the Israeli and U.S. public, and it is much easier to mobilize support for this than a policy opposing withdrawal from territories and evacuation of settlements.

Despite Netanyahu’s conditions to continue negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, the U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton stated before the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee that Washington maintains its “bedrock core commitment to Israel’s security” while promoting a two-state solution.

Moreover, Clinton also said that the administration “will not deal with or in any way fund a Palestinian government that includes Hamas unless and until Hamas has renounced violence, recognized Israel and abided by earlier agreements with Israel.”

In Europe and the Middle East, the diplomatic situation of Israel is more complicated. Following Operation Cast Lead, diplomatic bodies in a number of European countries have called for a freeze on upgrading EU-Israel relations, citing the pressure of domestic public opinion. Four European states have already said that if Israel did not agree to a two-state solution, they would oppose upgrading relations.

Israeli analysts believe that relations with EU will continue to deteriorate as long as Israel refuses to adopt the principle of a two-state solution.

This deterioration is evident when evaluating the erosion of the European ban on Hamas.

Since the Israeli offensive on Gaza, Hamas has reopened its relations with international policy makers as groups of lawmakers from the UK and EU, travelling independently, have made widely publicized visits to the Gaza Strip and to Hamas’s exiled leader, Khaled Mash’al, in Damascus in recent months.

On Wednesday 22 April, Mash’al has even addressed UK MPs by video link from Damascus. The ban on Hamas is eroding also in the U.S., where Martin Indyk, a former US ambassador to Israel who advised US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during her presidential campaign, recently co-wrote a book chapter asserting that "a peace process that excludes" Hamas is "bound to fail."

To confront this deteriorating diplomatic scenario, Ehud Barak, the Israeli Minister of Defense, proposes an Israeli peace initiative. However, in the international arena this initiative may come too late, will be determined by the international support for a two-state solution, and will reflect the Arab peace initiative. Otherwise, it risks not being relevant.

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