As special Obama envoy George Mitchell arrives for yet another round of US pressure on Israel, rumors abound as to whether Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will agree to “two states” in his major speech next week.
Netanyahu plans to deliver a speech this Sunday, at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (BESA) at Bar-Ilan University, as his official response to Obama’s speech in Cairo last week. Speculation is that Netanyahu might agree to a solution under which the Palestinian Authority would become a demilitarized state like Andorra, though other possibilities are also being reported.
A report in Maariv, based on an unnamed “senior diplomatic source,” has it that Netanyahu will actually agree to the American-backed two-state solution – namely, a 23rd Arab state, this one in Judea, Samaria and Gaza. This, despite the fact that he has consistently opposed it for years, and even lost the chance to have Kadima join his government coalition because of this position. Another factor rendering the two-state solution a non-starter is that Fatah and Hamas are unable to agree on a united government for the areas that they respectively control: Fatah in Judea/Samaria and Hamas in Gaza.
The same Maariv article states that senior Likud figures say that Netanyahu does not know yet what he will say in his speech.
Another report, in the daily Yisrael HaYom, says that Netanyahu will propose a diplomatic process leading to the formation of a Palestinian state without an army. The new state would be like Andorra, the small country between France and Spain, and would have recognized borders. Andorra, only 468 square kilometers (181 square miles) in size and with a population of 90,000, is a member of the United Nations, but responsibility for its defense lies with France and Spain.
Netanyahu has long been in favor of an Andorra-like solution for the Palestinian Authority. In 1997, during his first term as Prime Minister, he told interviewer Sir David Frost that in his vision, “they run their own affairs. They have self-government. They choose their own representatives. They legislate their own laws. They levy their own taxes. They run every aspect of their lives with no interference from us. It's self-government. But those powers that can threaten Israel, our most basic interests, including our security – [those remain] under Israeli control.
"I'll give you an example… If [the Judean Mountains area] becomes a Palestinian state, then they can have control of the airspace. They can, for example… bring in 1,000 people with the shoulder-fired missiles and shoot down [any plane arriving in Israel]. They couldn't only shoot down that plane; they might even be able to threaten the whole Israeli Air Force. If there's no Israeli Air Force, there's no Israel. So… there has to be a certain limitation of… those powers of the Palestinian entity that could threaten Israel… It's enough for them to control their internal security. [Their armed force] should stay in a circumscribed form so as not to threaten ours,” Netanyahu said.
Regarding Jewish growth and construction in the Biblical areas of Judea and Samaria, which Obama said last week the United States “no longer accepts as legitimate,” Netanyahu is reportedly willing to compromise. One report states that Netanyahu will agree to limit “natural growth” construction to the settlement blocs that will apparently remain Israeli in all scenarios. These include greater Jerusalem, Gush Etzion, Ariel, and one or two others – but will leave out Kiryat Arba, Beit El, Kedumim, Elon Moreh, and well over 100 other towns.
Obama’s special envoy to the Middle East, former U.S. Senator George Mitchell, has arrived in Israel for his fourth trip. He met this morning (Tuesday) with Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and will meet afterwards with President Shimon Peres, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
Mitchell has said that his goal is to convince Israel to resume immediate negotiations with PA head Mahmoud Abbas. Netanyahu has already agreed to meet with Abbas, known as Abu Mazen, without delay; Abu Mazen has refused until Israel agrees to agree to a PA state, withdraw its forces from PA-controlled cities, and/or fulfills other conditions.
Mitchell will then travel to Syria and Lebanon.
Meanwhile, the White House chose as its official photograph of Obama’s Monday phone call with Netanyahu one in which the President is seen making a point to Netanyahu, with his feet up on his desk. The White House announced that Obama and Netanyahu had a “constructive, 20-minute conversation” in which Obama “reiterated the principal elements of his Cairo speech.” Obama also “indicated that he looked forward to hearing the Prime Minister’s upcoming speech outlining his views on peace and security."