Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday Israel would object to any withdrawal to “indefensible” borders, adding he expected Washington to allow it to keep major settlement blocs in any peace deal.
In a statement after President Barack Obama’s speech outlining Middle East strategy, Netanyahu said before heading to Washington that “the viability of a Palestinian state cannot come at the expense of Israel’s existence”.
“That is why Prime Minister Netanyahu expects to hear a reaffirmation from President Obama of U.S. commitments made to Israel in 2004,” the statement added, alluding to a previous letter from Washington suggesting Israel could keep larger settlement blocs as part a peace deal with the Palestinians.
George W. Bush said that, a total break with precedent. Obama’s expressed will for the 1967 borders as the basis for an agreement is longstanding US policy with only the interruption in 2004. Netanyahu seized on that and wants it to be the only operative statement from the US on the matter.
As Gershom Gorenberg writes today, the kindred spirit with Netanyahu is really Ismail Haniyeh, the head of Hamas. They’re both maximalists:
Ismail Haniyeh, prime minister of the Hamas regime in Gaza, may be Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s favorite Palestinian leader — a true ally, a blood brother. What they share is an all-or-nothing approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: either complete Palestinian rule over the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan or complete Jewish hegemony. Neither man is a totally immovable object — roped and dragged by an irresistible political force, either might agree to less than the whole land, but only in violation of his life’s central conviction.
Haniyeh reiterated his views on Sunday at a Gaza rally, expressing “great hope of bringing an end to the Zionist project in Palestine.” Netanyahu seized that comment as a gift from an ally and quoted it the next day in his own speech to the Knesset, using it as proof that “this is not a conflict over 1967; this is a conflict over 1948, over the very existence of the state of Israel.” [...]
Once Netanyahu took office, unwilling to continue the talks where his predecessor left off, unwilling to agree to Obama’s request for a lasting settlement freeze, certain that “no [Palestinian] leadership has arisen that is ready for a real historic compromise” (as he told the Knesset this week), Abbas finally gave up on negotiating a package deal. He hopes the United Nations will impose a two-state solution. That will leave the 1948 issue of the refugees still on the table, with a final-status deal yet to be signed. Netanyahu, meanwhile, will take all of this as evidence that his his misreading of history has been proved right.
I don’t know how much more clearly Netanyahu needs to put it. He’s not interested in negotiation. What’s more, he can count on allies in the conservative movement, people like Mitt Romney saying Obama “threw Israel under the bus” by stating the standard border preference that America has sought in final status negotiations for decades.
This is coming to a head at the United Nations, where Abbas will petition the General Assembly for statehood. This is not a Security Council decision and it cannot be vetoed. Obama addressed it in his speech today simply by dismissing it.
For the Palestinians, efforts to delegitimize Israel will end in failure. Symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September won’t create an independent state.
But Israel achieved its statehood through very similar means. The Palestinians, seeing no hope for negotiation on statehood when they have no partner, will give this a try now. And ignoring it won’t make it go away. Of course, Obama won’t ignore it; the two sentences above indicate he will pressure allies at the UN to either vote no or abstain on the subject. That will be fascinating to watch.