According to the January 20, 2011 issue of the Jewish Week of San Francisco “Netanyahu and Barak confidants have been dropping broad hints that a new Israeli peace initiative is in the offing, suggesting that this is the part of a Netanyahu-Barak understanding.”
The convulsions in the Arab world, which toppled Egypt’s Mubarak and Tunisia’s Bin Ali, have also created a great deal of tension in Jerusalem. While some security experts have warned that the new realities in Egypt and the rest of the Arab world do not warrant any additional territorial concessions to the Palestinians, pressure from the Obama administration, as well as from European governments including the friendly German government of Angela Merkel, has been mounting on Netanyahu to come up with a new peace plan that would bring the Palestinian to the negotiating table.
Both Jerusalem and Washington fear that in the absence of a credible and far-reaching Israeli peace initiative, the Palestinians (Mahmud Abbas and his regime) might win a huge majority at the September 2011 U.N. General Assembly meeting for the recognition of a Palestinian State within the 1967 borders. What Netanyahu has in mind is a long-term interim agreement with the Palestinians that would recognize a Palestinian State within temporary borders. U.S. envoys sent to Israel by Obama do not believe, however, that the Palestinians would be satisfied with such an arrangement.
According to sources in Netanyahu’s office, the Prime Minister has bought into Barak’s 2000 Camp David Summit concept of a comprehensive deal with the Palestinians that would result in a declaration of “end of conflict” and provide answers to the critical issues at stake such as borders, refugees, Jerusalem, security, etc. Netanyahu’s plan would offer the Palestinians immediate territorial concessions, specifically, the transfer of West Bank areas currently under Israeli control to Palestinian sovereignty, release of Palestinian prisoners (terrorists), and the easing of movement for Palestinians by removing additional security barriers. In what Israeli officials call a “phased approach,” the Israeli media have speculated that it might include the removal of some Jewish enclaves.
Netanyahu’s upcoming speech (a likely Bar-Ilan II) that is slated to be delivered within the next few weeks either at a special joint session of the U.S. Congress or at the AIPAC conference scheduled for May, will highlight his new peace initiative and possibly include a renewed freeze on building in the controversial settlements of Judea and Samaria, as a way to appease the Obama administration. Netanyahu will, however, call for widening construction in Jerusalem, and in the large settlement blocs.
As U.S. and EU leaders increase their pressure on PM Netanyahu to accommodate the Palestinians due to the new circumstances in the Middle East, Netanyahu’s “backbone” is beginning to crumble. In light of the uncertainties on Israel’s borders with Lebanon and now with Egypt and possibly with Jordan, Israel’s security needs must be factored in considering the very real possibility of a Palestinian enemy next door to its population centers and within missile range of its major airport. Instead, Netanyahu and his Defense Minister Barak are seeking ways to accommodate the Obama administration and the Europeans by proposing dangerous concessions to the Palestinians. More than ever, Netanyahu needs to adopt Yitzhak Shamir’s toughness and have the courage to say no to further concessions which would put Israel’s security interests at great risk.
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