Jerusalem — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday that Israel has no choice but to adhere to the Oslo peace accord, despite the fact that he considers it a “flawed deal.” Speaking to a group of journalists representing Jewish newspapers, Netanyahu said that Israel is committed to carrying out a second redeployment under the treaty’s interim stage. To do otherwise, he said, could jeopardize the country’s international treaties with other nations.
The prime minister’s remarks came at a time when Dennis Ross, the U.S. special Mideast envoy, has been in the region, attempting to nail down a second redeployment agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and end almost a year and a half of negotiating stalemate.
There have been rumors that a long-awaited second redeployment agreement will be signed by the end of this month, perhaps in Washington, to give President Clinton a much-needed foreign policy boost during his domestic crisis. But problems remain — not the least of them the Arab world’s lack of trust of Netanyahu — and the Israeli leader is still caught in the political middle at home.
Israel’s political left is pushing for Netanyahu’s ouster through early national elections. On Saturday night, at least 40,000 demonstrators attended a Peace Now Rally in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square, the site of Yitzchak Rabin’s assassination at the hands of Yigal Amir, a Jewish extremist. And there are those on the right in his cabinet who have threatened to resign if Israel agrees to a U.S. proposal calling for relinquishing another 13 percent of West Bank territory.
Asked by a right-wing journalist why Israel continues to negotiate with the Palestinians, despite the fact that the Palestinians have failed to comply with many tenets of the Oslo accord, Netanyahu responded like a man caught in the middle.
The Oslo treaty, he said, “is not a bargain. It was in fact a very flawed deal. We said so at the time and nothing has changed our view.”
But flawed or not, Netanyahu continued, “we also said that we would keep the agreement under the principle of the continuity of confidence, providing the other side keeps their part of it. This is why we have been insisting on reciprocity.”
Discounting “fringe” elements in Israeli society, Netanyahu insisted that “the vast majority of Israelis want to … have progress with the Palestinians based on the principles we stand for: that is security and reciprocity.”
Referring not only to Israel but to the Palestinian Authority, the prime minister said that “responsible governments better think long and hard before they jettison international agreements. … A responsible government seeks to implement agreements, not to nullify them because unilateral and unprovoked nullification of agreements can lead to equal action on other international agreements of vital importance for the state.”
While acknowledging the importance of international treaties, Netanyahu made it clear that Israeli will consider the Oslo pact null and void if the Palestinians unilaterally declare a sovereign state without Israel’s blessing. Yasir Arafat has repeatedly threatened to establish an independent state in May 1999, if Israeli-Palestinian negotiations do not make substantial headway.
Under the terms of Oslo, a full peace deal is supposed to be reached by next spring.
Such a declaration of statehood, Netanyahu said, would be “a gross violation” of the treaty “and would release us…and thereby create the grounds for us to take unilateral action. That is something highly inadvisable from their point of view and they should think long and hard before nullifying the Oslo accords in that fashion.”
If it is up to Israel, the prime minister said, the next redeployment will be carried out in stages over a three-month period. During a Tuesday press briefing, Netanyahu hinted that agreement on the withdrawal could be reached within the next month.
“This will be done in an interwoven process. We’re thinking about a process that would take three months and would be divided into three phases: In the first phase they would carry out some of their obligations, we would cede some of the territory. In the second phase the same would repeat, as well as in the third. So we’re not dealing now with declarations anymore. We want to see a concrete fulfillment of promises. If they carry out their commitments, we will withdraw from additional territory. If they don’t, we won’t,” Netanyahu said.”