There is a great deal of speculation around regarding what President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu will say to each other when they finally meet on May 17. In fact, no one in the media really knows. Netanyahu has not released his foreign policy plans vis-à-vis the Palestinians. Obama’s team hasn’t yet finished their homework and has not released any details of what their plans are.
There have been very few statements made by both sides that might provide some indications but nothing that provides enough to really know for sure. Obama’s National Security Adviser, retired General James Jones, reiterated remarks made by other senior US officials linking the resolution of the Iranian nuclear threat to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Netanyahu has stated that Iran is the main problem in the Middle East, not the Palestinians.
Since speculation has become an accepted form of journalism, I would like to add my own to what has already been written. Reports have indicated that he will tell Obama that the Iranian threat must be dealt with before any real action can be taken on the issue of Syria or regarding the Palestinians.
Insisting that Iran is the main problem, Netanyahu will assert that the Palestinian house is divided and their leadership is weak and no “top-down” progress can be made. Look at Olmert – he really wanted to reach an agreement and couldn’t. I, Netanyahu, don’t believe that it is possible to reach any agreement with the Palestinians. They won’t even recognize our rights to exist as a Jewish state.
Netanyahu will tell Obama that he is opposed to any Palestinian state that would endanger Israel’s security, listing four specific issues concerning Palestinian sovereignty that pose such as threat. These were: a Palestinian army, Palestinian control of their external borders, control over airspace and control over the electro-magnetic sphere. Netanyahu will tell Obama that he has warmly embraced Quartet Envoy Tony Blair’s plan for building the Palestinian nation from the bottom-up.
Obama will accept Blair’s proposal for building from bottom-up. In doing so, he will have some very pressing questions for Netanyahu. He will ask Netanyahu to produce a plan for removing the entire complex network of checkpoints, road blocks, gates, earthmounds, and trenches within the West Bank, which according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs of the UN number 539 road and area closures. (This does not include the official points of crossing into Israel). The logic of such a request is that if you want to build the Palestinian economy, you have to allow for traffic to flow. Today it is more costly to move a truck of goods from Nablus to the Port of Ashdod than it is to move the same truckload from Ashdod to China. Who in their right mind would invest in such a climate?
Additionally, Obama will remind Netanyahu that the Government of Israel has already made a commitment to the Road Map which insists that Israel redeploy its forces back to positions that it held prior to September 29, 2000. Obama will have a copy of the Road Map in his file which he will pull out and further remind Netanyahu that Israel must freeze all settlement building, even within Jerusalem, and must remove all unauthorized outposts. Obama will certainly quote Netanyahu’s Foreign Minister Mr. Lieberman who stated to the whole world that Israel is committed to honoring its Road Map obligations. Obama will then ask Netanyahu for a plan for implementation. If from the bottom-up, ok, but let’s see a time table for implementation. Enough talk, now is the time for action.
Obama has no need to present Netanyahu with a new American plan. All he has to do is to demand that the Government of Israel take action on Netanyahu’s own words. But Obama will not stop with the “bottom-up”. He will tell Netanyahu that the Israel occupation over the Palestinian people must come to an end and plans for doing so must be made during the course of his Administration. Palestinian statehood must be declared as the “end game” and it must happen quickly. Obama recognizes that there can be no “bottom-up” peace making without a clear plan of where it’s heading. Obama’s Middle East Envoy Senator George Mitchell will confirm to Netanyahu that the United States and the other three members of the Quartet are all working, in a coordinated manner, to bring about the creation of the Palestinian State next to Israel that will live with Israel in peace.
Mitchell will tell Netanyahu of his experiences in Northern Ireland. He will emphasize that a real peace process must now produce tangible and foreseeable results for the Palestinian people. No more talk about empty political horizons. No more talk of open-ended negotiations. There must be a time table and there must be real performance benchmarks that both sides must meet. Mitchell, with Obama’s support will tell Netanyahu that the only way to confront the threat of Hamas and to get Hamas out of government is by the same means that brought them into power. Elections. But lessons have been learned. No one in their right mind will convene elections in Palestine when there have been no significant political and economic improvements on the ground. Elections must be part of the political process. That is what happened in Northern Ireland and that is what must happen in Palestine. So, yes, let’s embrace “bottom-up”. Allow Palestinians to work. Enable them to produce, invest, grow, and most of all – allow them movement and access. The United States will increase its support for building from the bottom-up. General Dayton will get more money and support to train another 1500 Palestinian officers and he will deploy them in the West Bank. The Palestinian security forces are now not only working on “law and order”, they are also engaging in counter-terrorism –just ask all of the Hamas operatives who are sitting in Palestinian prisons. Or ask the people who ran Hamas supported schools, clinics, and charities which are now closed by the Palestinian Authority.
Now, Mr. Netanyahu, let’s move onto your reservations regarding Palestinian statehood. Yes, the United States also will not allow for the creation of a Palestinian state that will endanger Israel’s security. The Palestinian threat is not an existential one, but nonetheless, we cannot allow for the chance of rockets being fired from the West Bank into Israel. So all of your reservations, Mr. Netanyahu, can be dealt with by the involvement of the international community. The international community will not provide the Palestinians with the financial assistance to build an army. If they chose to use other funds to do so, the International Community will cease its financial assistance to build the Palestinian state. The external borders of Palestine will be monitored by the International community – to the satisfaction of all reasonable Israeli demands. Palestine will not have an air force and the skies will be largely open for Israel to use, with Palestinian agreement to protect Israel against external threats. But the Palestinians will be entitled to civilian aviation which will be monitored by the international community. The Palestinians must have control over their electro-magnetic field, but the international community will mediate an agreement with Israel over the allocation of the sphere to the satisfaction of both sides.
Now Mr. Netanyahu, what about settlements?
Gershon is an advisor to Israeli, Palestinian and International Prime Ministers on the Middle East Peace Process and the founder and director of IPCRI, the Israeli-Palestinian Public Policy Institute. He was the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel between Israel and Hamas for the release of 1,027 prisoners – mainly Palestinians and Arab-Israelis of which 280 were sentenced to life in prison for planning and perpetrating various attacks against Jewish targets that resulted in the killing of 569 Israelis in exchange for one Israeli soldier, Gilad Schalit. Gershon is actively involved in research and advocacy concerning topics such as social policy, environmental security, political strategy, peace education, economics, culture and in the development of affordable solar projects with the goal of providing clean electricity for 50 million people by 2020.