Thursday, June 16, 2011

Bibi Past = Bibi Present?

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu gave a speech before the Knesset yesterday in which he outlined six "principles" for negotiations with the Palestinians:

1) Palestinians must recognize Israel as a Jewish state
2) The agreement must be a final status agreement
3) The Palestinian refugee issue will be solved outside of Israel
4) A Palestinian state will be demilitarized
5) The settlement blocks will remain part of Israel
6) Jerusalem will remain the sovereign and united capital of Israel


During his first term as Prime Minister between 1996 and 1999, Netanyahu held a similar policy of Three No's 1) No Golan withdrawal 2) No discussion of the status of Jerusalem and 3) No preconditions to negotiations.

The policy then and the policy now are similar. While the Prime Minister is now willing to discuss Jerusalem in 2011 versus in the late 90's, his hard-line on the issue is not a significant change policy-wise. More importantly, in both cases Netanyahu presents pre-conditions within the rhetoric of principles.

The two policies also parallel each other in that Netanyahu is deploying both in similar contexts. Faced with a Palestinian public on the edge and increasing pressure from an increasingly exasperated United States, Netanyahu is stretched thin between maintaining a conservative coalition, keeping Israeli public confidence, and holding onto US support.

While Netanyahu did eventually come to the table with Yasser Arafat at Wye River in 1998, the agreement was not enough to maintain the confidence of the Israeli public. His previous hard lining, including a strategy of neutralizing the Oslo accords, had alienated the Israeli left, while negotiating with Arafat in the first place alienated the Israeli right. Stretched too thin, and thanks in part to rumors about his marriage, Netanyahu lost the 1999 elections to Labor MK Ehud Barak following a no-confidence vote from both left-wing and right-wing parties.

Today, Netanyahu is faced with the choice of continuing to hardline, alienating the center-left and the United States, or to negotiate, alienating the far right. If a failed UN Palestinian statehood bid sparks Palestinian protests, this stretching effect will likely be exacerbated.

Given the similarities between the present and the past, it will take a shift from current policy to keep Netanyahu of 2011 from meeting a similar fate as Netanyahu of 1999.

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