15 June 2009

Who is my neighbour?

Just as Richard Nixon was the only American politician who could visit Communist China without being red-baited by Richard Nixon, so too Binyamin Netanyahu is the only Israeli politician who could even mention Palestine without being accused of caving in, treason or worse by Netanyahu.

(Yes, the above link connects to a News Ltd report. Here at the Politically Homeless Institute, we have no truck with Fairfax and their desperately silly Middle East reporter, who couldn't handle the fact that Peter Costello never became Prime Minister and is so far out of his depth on this issue it is pathetic.)

Netanyahu left his words until after the election in Iran, the main sponsors of Hamas and Hezbollah; had he done so beforehand he might have skewed the result (or made the currently stated result more legitimate than it is). He spoke at a time when Iran is paralysed politically, but also when the shit-sandwich fed to him by Obama is still stuck to his teeth. Having tried to define Palestine out of existence, by making war against what used to be the PLO and then corralling Palestinians, his next step has been to define what sort of Palestine might be an acceptable neighbour.
BENJAMIN Netanyahu threw down the gauntlet to the US last night

Rubbish. What he did was cave, with a few lines to mollify the far right of his coalition.
The hawkish Prime Minister insisted that Israel would never give up a united Jerusalem as its capital ...

That depends what you mean by Jerusalem, really. Colonisation by urban sprawl won't impress anyone - not those impressed by modern-day realpolitik nor scholars of ancient texts.
... established Jewish settlements in the West Bank would continue to expand - despite explicit objections from Washington.

Like hell they will.

Settlements outside Israel are subject to the laws of those countries. If sovereign countries decide to limit or abolish settlements, they do so. It is only possible in theory that Israel would invade a neighbouring country in order to facilitate building work, then stay to protect it; in practice it would not be on and Israel would be a clear belligerent. This is a sop to his rightwing buddies, what sounds like sabre-rattling from an empty scabbard. You can see that in the weaselly failure to define what a Palestinian "entity" might be - mind you, no more "weaselly" than the attitude of Zionist groups toward the British mandate in yes, Palestine, between last century's two world wars.
Mr Netanyahu tried to advance elements of his economic peace plan - whereby the Palestinians would receive investment in return for limited sovereignty - while still conceding to US insistence on the creation of an independent Palestinian country.

The right-wing Israeli leader said the moderate Palestinian leadership in the West Bank must agree to recognise Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people, as well as fight the Islamic hardliners Hamas, who now control Gaza, in return for the resumption of peace talks.

"The key condition is that the Palestinians recognise in a clear and public manner that Israel is the state of the Jewish people," he told dignitaries in an auditorium at Bar Ilan University in Tel Aviv.

See, he's trying to define its economy (vassal state) while offering the truly miserable enticement of Bantustan status and "peace talks". That won't be good enough for anyone except the auditorium-stuffing at Bar Ilan. This is a position begging to be bargained away.
"If we have the guarantees on demilitarisation, and if the Palestinians recognise Israel as a state of the Jewish people, then we arrive at a solution based on a demilitarised Palestinian state alongside Israel," Mr Netanyahu said.

"Each will have its flag, each will have its anthem. The Palestinian territory will be without arms, will not control airspace, will not be able to have arms enter."

He said that "effective security safeguards" would have to be in place, without specifying what they might be.

Palestine is demilitarised already. Hamas terrorists* who fire rockets into Israel aren't militarised in the sense that the armed forces of a recognised state are, and there is no incentive for a Palestinian government to formally institute a military structure. In the same way, there is no incentive for Netanyahu to define how much "effective security safeguards" might be enough.
"Many a worthy person has told us that withdrawal is the key to peace between us and the Palestinians. But the fact is that every withdrawal has been accompanied by rockets and suicide attacks". He said that the Palestinians had to drop the right of return for hundreds of thousands of refugees to their homes inside Israel.

The fact is that every withdrawal to date has not left the Palestinians any better off, and has perpetuated a kind of cat-and-mouse game on Israel's part that disgraces that nation and sullies its credibility on commitments going forward. The fact is also that the "right of return" requires the dispossessed to recognise the state of Israel, which a two-state solution will facilitate. Any refugee who returns to their home and refuses to obey the laws of Israel deserves the punishment under that law.
He said last night that he would not agree to US demands for a total freeze on the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

"I do not wish to build new settlements or to confiscate lands to that end, but we have to allow the residents of the settlements to live normal lives," he said.

You don't do the allowing, and you don't define what "normal lives" are either. A combination of Israelis displaced by refugees combined with West Bank settlers deciding they don't want to live in Palestine creates a social dislocation issue for Israel that no government can survive without very skillful management and an economic boom, neither of which are evident in Netanyahu's government.

That will have to change, though. Netanyahu has to stand up for an Israel that deserves recognition as a proper state, rather than a front for a bunch of gamblers. Palestine has its work cut out too, and now that Iran is in a tizz politically this is the perfect time for both states to live independently of its toxic reach. For each state to respect the boundaries of the other would be a huge start to an initiative that could be enormously productive - but is it realistic?

Never mind what's fair, or even what's in everybody's best interests - could it work? Do we dare hope for better in Israel-Palestine? I hope for better in Iran too, but not just yet if it means more than just a two-state solution but respectful neighbours with countries/economies that work far beyond the trappings of flags and anthems.

* Yeah, should've put out a Loaded Terms Alert there, oh well.

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