The Times of Israel has an excellent piece about a recent Netanyahu press conference; this is the part that really stands out to me:
The priority right now, Netanyahu stressed, was to “take care of Hamas.” But the wider lesson of the current escalation was that Israel had to ensure that “we don’t get another Gaza in Judea and Samaria.” Amid the current conflict, he elaborated, “I think the Israeli people understand now what I always say: that there cannot be a situation, under any agreement, in which we relinquish security control of the territory west of the River Jordan.”
Not relinquishing security control west of the Jordan, it should be emphasized, means not giving a Palestinian entity full sovereignty there. It means not acceding to Mahmoud Abbas’s demands, to Barack Obama’s demands, to the international community’s demands. This is not merely demanding a demilitarized Palestine; it is insisting upon ongoing Israeli security oversight inside and at the borders of the West Bank. That sentence, quite simply, spells the end to the notion of Netanyahu consenting to the establishment of a Palestinian state. A less-than-sovereign entity? Maybe, though this will never satisfy the Palestinians or the international community. A fully sovereign Palestine? Out of the question.
He wasn’t saying that he doesn’t support a two-state solution. He was saying that it’s impossible. This was not a new, dramatic change of stance by the prime minister. It was a new, dramatic exposition of his long-held stance.
There’s a stunning lack of foresight on display here. For Netanyahu, this seems to be politics as usual: The future will take care of itself as long as we take care of whatever issues present themselves right now. But this is no way to deal with a situation of conflict, so it’s important for people to see it and to really think about what it means.
Netanyahu says that Israel’s priority right now is to “take care of Hamas.” But there’s no way he actually believes that the on-going bombing of Gaza will accomplish this goal. Does anyone believe this? If so, why? We’ve seen a series of Gaza bombing campaigns over the years but none of them has taken care of Hamas. Why is this one different? It’s not.
When this bombing campaign ends — and it will end, as all the others have — a lot of Gazans will have been killed or wounded, but the Hamas organizational infrastructure will remain largely intact, as will its ability to launch rockets into Israel. What will be accomplished? Little else besides dead Gazans and international outcry against Israel.
And Netanyahu must know this … because it happens every time.
If the Israeli government really wants to “take care of Hamas,” Netanyahu will have to undermine the organization rather than strengthen it. Whether or not Netanyahu realizes it — and, really, how could he not? — the bombing campaigns against Gaza serve to strengthen Hamas; they validate all the things that Hamas says are true about Israel: That Israel is the aggressor, that it is oppressive, that it violates international law, that it terrorizes civilians, that violence is the only way to respond to it.
To undermine Hamas, by contrast, would be to do the opposite of what Hamas tells Palestinians; it would mean taking power from Hamas by proving its leaders wrong. Among other things, it would be to stop restricting Palestinians’ freedom of movement, to help improve living conditions in Gaza, to give up on the policy of collective punishment, and even to treat the political wing of Hamas as a legitimate political entity. Most importantly, to undermine Hamas would be to work with Fatah to establish an indepedent Palestinian state.
But that too is addressed by Netanyahu in his press conference.
Netanyahu argues that the ongoing rocket attacks from Gaza make clear that Israel can’t ever “relinquish security control” over the West Bank. To do so, he claims, would be to invite endless insecurity for Israel. The West Bank is, of course, a far larger piece of land than Gaza and Netanyahu’s argument is that, if Israel cedes security control to the Palestinian Authority, that territory will simply become a much larger version of Gaza.
What Netanyahu doesn’t admit is that the circumstances would (or at least should) be quite different. Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza and, after Hamas was elected there, refused to recognize the results of that election. Israel also blockaded Gaza for years. Presumably, relinquishing security control over the West Bank would not be done in the same manner as the Gaza disengagement. It would, instead, be negotiated as part of the creation of an indepedent Palestinian state and then Israel would not, again presumably, seek to delegitimize that state’s government.
His assumption that the security situation in the West Bank would devolve into the same situation we see in Gaza makes no sense, except as part of a belief that the Palestinians are naturally given to extremism and that a negotiated settlement of the conflict that resulted in an indepedent state would have no impact on that presumed extremism. But it’s hard to see how this belief has any basis in reality.
What Netanyahu is saying, then, is that there is no situation in which the aspirations of the Palestinian people, and the central feature of the Oslo peace process, can ever be accomplished … because he won’t allow it. He claims that the security of Israel would be permanently compromised and Israel’s security is his primary motivation in any foreign policy decision he makes. But he either doesn’t recognize or doesn’t care that Israel’s security is permanently compromised by his inability to reach a peaceful solution to the decades-old conflict with the Palestinians. Promising the permanent frustration of Palestinian national aspirations and thereby undermining the moderate leadership of Fatah does nothing but strengthen the extremists that Netanyahu says he fears.
What Netanyahu’s words mean is that there is no peace process, that the only possible peace is peace on his terms, rather peace as a result of compromise. And this, for someone with any foresight at all, means perpetual insecurity for Israel, irrespective of what Netanyahu claims he’s hoping to achieve.