Although President Barack Obama called upon Israelis and Palestinians Tuesday to “take steps” towards a peace agreement, Israeli observers question the practicality of such moves now.
And Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon reportedly said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would stress the Iranian issue ahead of the Palestinian one in his talks next month with Obama.
Stopping Iran, he was quoted by the Washington Post as saying, is “a condition if we want to move forward [on the Palestinian issue]. If we want to have a real political process with the Palestinians, then you can’t have the Iranians undermining and sabotaging.”
He was apparently referring to recent reports of Iranian-backed Hezbollah forces in Egypt trying to support the overthrow of the Egyptian government and to
resupply Hamas terrorists in the Gaza Strip.
The Obama administration is said to believe that progress in Israeli-Palestinian talks will diminish such Iranian-backed groups as Hamas and Hezbollah.
Professor Yitzhak Reiter of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem said Netanyahu “is interested in a clear U.S. policy regarding Iran to prevent its nuclear project from materializing, and he realizes he will have to pay back in some way either on the Israeli-Palestinian or Israeli-Syrian [peace] track. But it is unclear to me what he can actually deliver because there are so many issues that could hamper his ability to reach an agreement.”
The major obstacle is the split between Hamas and Fatah, he said.
“I don’t see how one can bring together Hamas and Fatah into a unity government,” he said. “Hamas says that it will perhaps delegate to [Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas] the task of negotiating a peace agreement with Israel that would then be brought in a referendum to the Palestinian people. They are sure the Palestinians will never ratify an agreement that does not include the right of return for all Palestinian refugees.”
Even the suggestion that Israel accept the principle of a Palestinian right of return is unacceptable, Reiter said, because it would mean that Israel “took responsibility for the 1948 war when it was the Arabs who attacked and who rejected the 1947 [United Nations’] partition” plan.
Israeli media reports this week said Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman had adopted two different approaches to the Palestinian peace issue. But political analyst Yossi Alpher said all these reports are “speculation and should be taken with a grain of salt.”
“Netanyahu is trying to find something acceptable to the Americans without getting into trouble with his own coalition,” he said. “Netanyahu will accept a two-state solution. He has been moving in that direction and he wants to be able to say to his constituents that he was pressured into it and that he got something in return.”
Asked about the Obama administration’s public stance in favor of a two-state solution when Netanyahu has not committed to it, Alpher replied: “They are playing tough.”
But when asked if a two-state solution could be implemented in the next two years, Alpher said: “No, I doubt it. I don’t think we have the leadership or the stability on the Palestinian side. And Netanyahu cannot carry out a two-state solution with his coalition.”
Mordechai Kedar of the Begin-Sadat Center also dismissed reports of discord in the Israeli government, saying that different “trial balloons are being floated to see which way the wind is blowing.”
“Don’t get carried away by these slogans,” he said. “He is trying to shape a policy to come up with ideas for Obama, and until the minute he sits with Obama those ideas will continue to shape and reshape his positions.”
Eytan Gilboa, a political science professor at Bar-Ilan University, said the “Israeli public opinion and politicians know that in the long term there will be an independent Palestinian state, but if Obama thinks it can be done in the next two years he does not understand the reality of the last few years.”
“Suppose that a Palestinian state is created in the West Bank and Gaza,” he said. “In view of the impotence of the Palestinian Authority and the popularity and power of Hamas, how can one be sure Hamas will not take over the West Bank as well as the Gaza Strip?
“The U.S. is saying maybe a national unity government between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority-Fatah would work. And they said it would help the peace process because both sides would be working together and Hamas would become more moderate and Fatah would be able to dictate the policies of that government. That is wishful thinking and a complete divorce from reality; if Hamas entered a national unity government, it would take over and not the other way around.”
The Anti-Defamation League said in a statement that it was “troubled” by the comment Obama made when he said: “We can’t talk forever; at some point, steps have to be taken so that people can see progress on the ground.”
The ADL said the remark suggests “that Israel has not acted for peace” when, in fact, it unilaterally withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005 and “made a generous offer for peace” in 2000 that the Palestinians rejected before turning to violence and terror.
Gilboa observed that as long as Hamas “is so closely linked with Iran, there is no way a Palestinian state can be established in the West Bank and Gaza in the next two years.”
Although the U.S., unlike the European Union and Egypt, is not actively promoting a Palestinian unity government, the Financial Times reported Wednesday that it has asked Congress to make it easier to provide financial assistance to such a government. Instead of demanding that Hamas first recognize Israel’s right to exist, renounce violence and accept prior Israeli-Palestinian agreements, the new rules would ask only that the unity government accept such conditions.
Both Obama and his Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, have spoken recently in support of the 2002 Saudi peace proposal in which all Arab states would recognize Israel in return for Israel returning to its 1967 borders, permitting a Palestinian State in the West Bank and Gaza with Jerusalem as its capital, and finding an acceptable solution to the Palestinian refugee issue.
Reiter said he finds the proposal “highly problematic because it demands repatriation of all of those Palestinians living abroad and it is presented as take it or leave it. Even the most leftwing Israeli government would not accept that. It doesn’t even come close to the Israeli position.”