What Is Benjamin Netanyahu Thinking?
For some years it looked like the Middle East peace process was dead. Now the corpse appears to be sitting upright again.
Benjamin Netanyahu—the conservative, the hawk, the man whom a weary Israeli public elected to guarantee their security—has taken two extraordinary steps that contradict his own long and feisty public history. In June, he endorsed the creation of an independent Palestinian state. Then last month, he announced a 10-month freeze on building Israeli housing in the West Bank.
“[T]he government of Israel has taken a very big step towards peace today,” he explained November 25, “and I hope the Palestinian and the Arab world will work with us to forge a new beginning for our children and theirs.”
Palestinian leaders flatly rejected both gestures, complaining they were undermined by Netanyahu’s conditions: He said the Palestinian state must be demilitarized and must recognize Israel as a Jewish nation; and the construction freeze excluded East Jerusalem.
But that isn’t the whole story. Steven Rosen of the Middle East Forum reported in Foreign Policy on a series of quiet concessions Netanyahu has made to prepare for resuming peace talks. Barack Obama’s Mideast peace envoy, George Mitchell, has negotiated “terms of reference” with him aimed at setting the stage for serious negotiations. Rosen says Netanyahu has agreed to “an outcome which ends the conflict and reconciles the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state based on the 1967 lines, with agreed swaps.” On the thorniest issues—Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees’ “right of return”—he appears to be bracing for making reasonable allowances while trying to preserve Israel’s ability to defend itself. In other words, it seems to be a good-faith effort at restarting peace talks. “While admittedly important differences remain,” Mitchell announced on November 25, “we’ve made very substantial progress.”
On top of that, Netanyahu, in another stunning break from his past, has been negotiating with Hamas, trying to retrieve captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in exchange for reportedly hundreds of Palestinian terrorists sitting in Israeli prisons. The prime minister has been extremely critical of past deals of this ilk, arguing that they endanger more Israeli lives than they save. And yet here he is neck-deep in the details of just such a risky bargain.
Why the change?
Benjamin Netanyahu is no fool. He knows the notion that “Palestinians deep down really want peace with Israel if the terms are right” is a lie. And the Palestinians are providing plenty of proof of that: Hamas vowing last week to “liberate all of Palestine”; Fatah refusing to revise its charter, which says “Liberating Palestine is a national obligation” and that “armed public revolution is the inevitable method”; Mahmoud Abbas saying only last week that “Jerusalem is ours.” And so on, ad nauseam.
So why pretend a negotiated peace is possible?
The fact that Netanyahu is taking these steps goes to show the enormous pressure he is under.
Despite his profound skepticism of the peace process, “he has come back to a second term as prime minister with a deeper appreciation of the reality that his relations with the United States, Europe, and moderate Arab neighbors depend on the perception that he can be a partner in the search for diplomatic progress with the Palestinians,” Rosen wrote.
Though the prime minister feels he needs those relationships, the United States and Europe are hardly giving him the support he seeks.
It was President Obama who insisted Israel cease all construction. Yet when Netanyahu obliged him and announced the 10-month freeze, he was greeted with news the following day in Yediot Aharonot that Obama’s administration “now wants Israel to release a thousand Fatah terrorists from prison,” Caroline Glick wrote. “The Americans also want Israel to allow U.S.-trained, terror supporting Fatah paramilitary forces to deploy in areas that are currently under Israeli military control. Moreover, the Americans are demanding that Israel surrender land in the strategically crucial Jordan Valley to Fatah” (November 27). And President Obama expects all of that from Israel before it even starts negotiations with the Palestinians.
As for the European Union, early this month it almost passed a radical resolution to recognize a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as the capital. With friends like that, who needs enemies?
Yes, these are the closest thing Israel has to allies at this point. Virtually the rest of the world is openly hostile.
Meanwhile, Iran is on the verge of building a nuclear bomb, and Netanyahu’s Israel may be the only nation willing to take any real action to prevent it. Perhaps the prime minister is making the concessions he is in an effort to earn other nations’ goodwill—in case he does end up having to order a strike on Iran.
The world doubts Netanyahu’s sincerity. But the charge that he is only posturing, or cannily moving chess pieces to gain an advantage, overlooks the very real damage his efforts could wreak. Releasing terrorists to recover Shalit, for example, would embolden the enemy and almost surely lead to more Israeli deaths. Even by agreeing to negotiate with Hamas, Glick pointed out, “Netanyahu conferred legitimacy not only on the terror group, but on the act of taking hostages. After all, until Hamas had Shalit, no government in Israel was willing to cut a deal with it.” This move will bolster Hamas’s popularity among the Palestinians and hurt that of Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah—some analysts believe substantially. It would also surely dishearten Israeli soldiers who are expected to risk their lives to fight and jail terrorists who could then be set free.
History has shown time and again that such negotiations are a dreadful mistake. The Palestinians have consistently, manifestly proven that they seek only Israel’s death. Every venture Israel has taken in search of a negotiated peace with them, without exception, has ended in pain and misery to Israelis.
The peace process—even if it is being pursued only for tactical purposes today—is a deadly wound to Israel. Read the chapter on “Israel’s Deadly ‘Wound’” in our booklet Jerusalem in Prophecy to understand the trap Israel is walking into in this process. As Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry wrote back in November 1993, “Today the radical Islamic movement is causing other nations to fear—even motivating peace treaties. But these treaties are destined to fail. The deadly delusion that ‘all problems can be solved by negotiation’ is going to lead Israel and the U.S. to disaster.”
Prophecy indicates that ultimately, the negotiation will grind to a halt—which will spark a fit of violence. Prime Minister Netanyahu is walking a thin, dangerous line with no good options. But his efforts to project a willingness to resurrect the dead peace process are hastening his nation’s demise.
Viewing these events in conjunction with many other converging prophetically significant events, 2010 is shaping up to become a watershed year.