Ted BelmanThe author is a retired attorney and the editor of Israpundit. In 2009 he made aliya and is now living in Jerusalem.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ precondition for starting negotiations is that Israel accept the pre-1967 armistice lines as the basis for those negotiations. Of course, east Jerusalem, including the entire Old City, is then on the Arab side. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rightly rejects this and insists on negotiations without preconditions.
And he doesn’t tire of assuring Israelis that he will not jeopardize their security.
Abbas recently demanded that Netanyahu present a map of 'Palestine'; Netanyahu declined. Three years earlier, the White House also pressed Netanyahu for a map, without success. Netanyahu gave as his reasons: the need for an understanding on security issues such as Palestinian Arab demilitarization and an Israeli military presence on the Jordan River, and the need for an end-of-conflict agreement before dealing with the border issue.
All this is well and good, but it is not without cost.
While Abbas lays claim to 100 percent of the territories east of the armistice lines, Netanyahu claims none of it. Instead, he demands that Abbas recognize Israel as a Jewish state and he prioritizes Israel’s security needs. Netanyahu should reverse himself.
Whether Israel is a Jewish state or not is for the Knesset to decide. Abbas has no say in the matter. On the other hand, if the reason for demanding recognition is that it would put an end to the so-called Palestinian Arab “right of return to Israel,” why not be more direct and assert that there is no such right? As for Israel’s security needs, they go without saying.
Netanyahu went so far as to say that the Arab-Israeli conflict is not a territorial dispute. To be sure, it is an existential dispute but it is also a territorial dispute. That’s why Israel used to claim that the territories were “disputed lands.”
What he should be saying is that historically, legally, and by virtue of having liberated the territories in a defensive war, Israel has by far the best claim to them. In the absence of making such a claim, he allows the world to brand Israel as an illegal occupier. This branding gives rise to the demonization and delegitimation of Israel .
More specifically, Netanyahu should assert that Israel will never divide Jerusalem and that it will be Israel’s undivided capital forever. The case can easily be made that what is commonly referred to as Arab East Jerusalem is really Jewish Jerusalem.
Whatever Netanyahu says in the context of the peace process is international news and often the lead story. He should use this pulpit to assert our rights and explain them to the world.
By being silent on these matters (except for his historic, much-applauded speech in Congress in 2011), Netanyahu allows the world to think we have no right to the land. By analogy, suppose a person has a gun in his possession and a hostile neighbor demands that the person give the gun to him. If the person refuses and argues that he needs the gun for security, a bystander might logically conclude that the person must not own the gun because otherwise, he would have said, simply, no, it’s mine.
Netanyahu studiously avoids making our claim to the territories, preferring instead to fight for our security needs. Furthermore, he has buried the Levy Report, which asserts our legal rights to the land and denies the occupation. This is incomprehensible.
Netanyahu has reportedly imposed a freeze on construction in the settlements, to end in mid-June. This was done to give U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry a chance to get negotiations started. Obviously, if negotiations start, the freeze will have to continue. This is exactly what Abbas has demanded and Netanyahu has agreed to it, although publically he has repeatedly rejected the freeze and other proposed goodwill gestures and preconditions.
For many reasons, Israel should never agree to a freeze. Prime among them is the fact that construction keeps the pressure on Abbas to compromise. The longer he tarries, the more will be built. On the other hand, if Israel were to agree to a freeze, Abbas would avoid progress in negotiations, while at the same time, continue illegal Palestinian Authortiy construction, incite hatred and violence, and encroach more on Area C. This it would be a lose-lose game for Israel.
A week ago when speaking to Foreign Ministry officials, Netanyahu said “The purpose of the future agreement with the Palestinians is to prevent the eventuality of a bi-national state and to guarantee stability and security.”. Thus, he has joined the Left in promoting this demographic bogeyman.
But based on demographic studies by Yoram Ettinger, were Israel to annex all of the territories, Gaza excluded, the Jews would outnumber the Arabs in the enlarged Israel by a margin of 2:1. This ratio is enough to keep Israel both Jewish and democratic. According to a poll taken in Dec 2012, “a decisive majority-78% are disturbed by the possibility that Israel may turn into a bi-national state.” Israel will never allow it to happen, with or without a two-state solution.
If Netanyahu is prepared to accept the 1967 lines with swaps, he should continue on his current path. But if he wants to keep all the settlement blocs and keep a united Jerusalem, as he claims, he should start asserting our rights and staking our claims.