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Double vision?

Double vision

Double vision?

Having clung to it for long, Palestinian officials are seeing the basis of the two-state solution evaporate before their eyes, writes Saleh Al-Naami

Israel's National Security Council head Uzi Arad and his team laboured for three weeks to produce the positions that Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has proposed to US President Barack Obama. Arad, who was previously the head of Mossad's research division, is Netanyahu's closest aide. Since 1996 Netanyahu has adopted the formulation of his policies on Arab-Israeli relations and specifically those with the Palestinians.

Arad clarified in resolute terms the positions that Netanyahu would propose to Obama, stressing that under the current circumstances Israel could not approve a two-state vision as a solution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian people. The establishment of a Palestinian state would be considered an existential threat to Israel since it is possible that Hamas could take control of this state. Arad says that Netanyahu will focus on trying to convince Obama of the necessity of lowering interest in the Palestinian issue and focussing instead on efforts to address Iran's nuclear programme. Most "moderate" Arab states, he claims, have begun to believe that the Iranian threat is the greatest challenge facing the region.

Arad says that Israel is suggesting to the Obama administration that it begin formulating a new "roadmap" aimed at achieving regional peace. Israel has proposed forming joint teams to formulate the new "map" with specific conditions, most prominently that the Palestinians plainly recognise that Israel is the state of the Jewish people, and that Arab states be prepared to normalise relations with Israel. At the same time, however, Israel has refused to commit to halting settlement construction in the West Bank, on the argument that such construction meets the housing needs produced by settlers' natural growth.

Netanyahu left Tel Aviv with the threats of Likud Party members in his ears. Most Likud representatives (Netanyahu is head of the Likud Party) threatened to breach party discipline and not vote on government decisions if Netanyahu showed any degree of acceptance of the idea of a Palestinian state.

Israeli media has stressed that Netanyahu's visit to Washington coincided with a development in Israel's interest, that being the Obama administration's adoption of the proposal made by former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni for a series of steps the Arab world must take in order to convince Israeli public opinion to support a two-state vision. According to Livni's plan, Arab regimes -- even those that have no relations with Israel -- must unequivocally support negotiations between the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Israel, and must not intervene to frustrate these negotiations. Livni also called on the Arabs to support the PA led by President Mahmoud Abbas while at the same time tightening the stranglehold on Hamas and its rule, in addition to normalising relations with Tel Aviv as hastily as possible.

Spokespersons for the PA have shown discomfort over leaks confirming that the US administration reassured Netanyahu that no pressures would be placed on him during the meeting. Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) Executive Committee Secretary Yasser Abed Rabbo asked the Obama administration to adopt a serious position towards the future of the negotiation process between Israel and the PA, stressing that the PA rejects the conditions placed by Netanyahu for resuming negotiations. Abed Rabbo considers these conditions aimed at "evading the central issue, which is ending the occupation and establishing an independent Palestinian state. There is no point in going into details about what Netanyahu says, because it is all misleading and worthless." Abed Rabbo has called on the US administration to set a timeframe for implementing the Arab peace plan. "What is important is how serious the American administration is in working to implement a plan like this and what steps it intends to take to begin a serious peace process," he said.

Several observers warn the PA against betting on the two-state vision as the best way forward for the Palestinian cause. Political scientist Nehad Al-Sheikh Khalil holds that the two-state vision clashes with the commitment undertaken by the United States -- public rhetoric aside -- to make the establishment of a Palestinian state a nearly impossible task. Al-Sheikh Khalil points out that this commitment was made in a letter of guarantees that former US president George W Bush gave to former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon on 14 May 2004. These guarantees affirmed US support of Israel's rejection of the right of return for Palestinian refugees and an Israeli withdrawal to 4 June 1967 borders. It also included US recognition of the demographic change that has taken place in the West Bank and Jerusalem. Al-Sheikh Khalil further points to the support of the current US administration for the Israeli interpretation of the "roadmap", and particularly security requirements made of the PA in Ramallah with regards to striking at and uprooting Palestinian resistance.

Despite the Israeli security agencies' uncharacteristic praise for the efforts of the Salam Fayyad government's security agencies in striking at and punishing the resistance, the right-wing government has tabled new standards for the PA to adhere to. The most recent of these was voiced by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who conditioned the commencement of negotiations with the PA upon its preparedness to take control of the Gaza Strip and disarm Hamas. "In other words, he stipulates the outbreak of a new Palestinian civil war that would destroy everything for the sake of a mirage," Al-Sheikh Khalil told Al-Ahram Weekly.

Al-Sheikh Khalil underlines that the clear recognition by the US of Israel's Jewish character means that any future political settlement with the Palestinians must maintain an overwhelming demographic majority for Jews and all that this involves in the way of facilitating the continued immigration of Jews into Palestine. It would also require rejecting the right of return for Palestinian refugees and getting rid of the demographic weight of "1948 Palestinians" (known otherwise as Arab Israelis) through expulsion from Israel, or by transfer. Al-Sheikh Khalil ponders, "At the Annapolis conference the US administration promised to continue supporting the establishment of a Palestinian state through to 2008, and of course that didn't happen. So if the Bush administration failed to keep its promise under the Olmert government, which was characterised as 'moderate', then how can the Obama administration possibly succeed in making advancements towards two states under the extreme right government [of Netanyahu]?"

Yet the Obama-Netanyahu discussions did not only focus on the way forward for Palestinians and Israelis. They went further to discuss positions on Iran's nuclear programme and relations with Syria. Although it is not expected that the details of the discussions on Iran be revealed, former head of Israeli military intelligence's research division General Yakuv Ami Darur holds that Israel faces critical choices. The first is the political approach that has been developed since President Obama assumed office, and specifically Obama's orientation towards dialogue and unconditional negotiations with Iran. Darur warns that the Iranians will play unfairly and act slowly in order to gain time, avoiding dialogue with Washington until they are set to produce their first nuclear bomb. In an article published in the Israel Today newspaper, Darur said the second choice is for Israel or the US to attack the Iranian nuclear project in a way that would force Tehran to discontinue it. "It is clear that Israel must be prepared to strike alone at the Iranian nuclear facilities despite the high price paid in building a force appropriate for executing such an attack," he said. "Of course the decision to implement this plan would only be taken when it became clear that political efforts had failed." Yet Darur stresses the necessity of Israel preparing for the possibility of its failure to bar Iran from developing nuclear weapons, and says that Israel must be able to direct a doubly powerful counter- strike at Iran. "It must be clear to decision-makers in Tehran that there won't be enough Iranians left to survey the destruction, the killed, and the mourning in Iran should Israel attack," he said.

With regard to Israeli-Syrian relations, political analyst Shimeon Schaeffer predicted that Netanyahu would be forced to discuss the resumption of negotiations in his talks with Obama. In an article published in Yediot Aharonot, Schaeffer pointed out that "Israel has come to realise that the new US administration -- contrary to the previous administration -- is in dire need of the Syrian government cooperating fully with the Iraqi file, especially since Obama insists on fulfilling his promises to withdraw American forces from Iraq, and despite the Syrians continuing to allow Al-Qaeda members to cross into Iraq with the aim of striking at Americans." He added: "The Israeli security apparatus believes that if Israel wants close relations with the Obama administration, it must take the initiative to resume negotiations with Syria, otherwise the initiative will come from the Americans. [Syrian President Bashar] Al-Assad knows that the United States alone is capable of forcing Israel to pay the price of peace according to its understanding -- return of the Golan Heights and Syria's prisoners."

THE LINK: http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2009/948/re1.htm