Why Netanyahu won’t approve a Palestinian state

Despite PM’s repeated calls for new negotiations, and support in principle for a two-state solution, recent statements underline his deep-rooted belief that, for ‘the foreseeable future,’ Palestine is a non-starter

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Netanyahu during a press conference on the security situation on October 8, 2015, at his office in Jerusalem. (AFP photo/Gali Tibbon)
Prime Minister Netanyahu during a press conference on the security situation on October 8, 2015, at his office in Jerusalem. (AFP photo/Gali Tibbon)

Former premier Yitzhak Rabin never publicly declared support for Palestinian statehood. “The prime minister is of the opinion that there is no room for a Palestinian state,” Rabin’s top aide Eitan Haber wrote in a letter in December 1994. Ten months later, just weeks before he was assassinated, Rabin told the Knesset that he envisions for the Palestinians an “entity that is less than a state.”

Although it is unclear what exactly Rabin had in mind — some argue he intentionally avoided the words “Palestinian state” because he felt the public wasn’t yet ready for an idea that was still taboo at the time — right-wing politicians love to quote this particular sound bite.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu mentioned it during the 2010 state memorial ceremony of Rabin’s November 1995 assassination; Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon did the same at a commemorative event in Washington earlier this week.

Paradoxically, Rabin, though he never announced it, was probably more inclined to the creation of a Palestinian state and ending the military occupation of the West Bank that started in 1967 than Netanyahu. The current prime minister professes support for a two-solution and continually calls for peace negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. But at the same time he insists that under his reign there will be no large-scale withdrawal from the West Bank — which means no final-status accord and no Palestinian state.

Since the recent wave of terrorism erupted, and world leaders have increased their calls for a “credible process” with the Palestinians, Netanyahu has made efforts to restore calm, but also made plain on numerous occasions that he believes that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is currently not solvable.

At the height of the 2014 Gaza war, Netanyahu revealed that he doesn’t envision Palestinian sovereignty in the West Bank any time soon. “I think the Israeli people understand now what I always say: that there cannot be a situation, under any agreement, in which we relinquish security control of the territory west of the River Jordan,” he said at a press conference in Jerusalem. In other words: no withdrawal and no Palestinian sovereignty, which means no state of Palestine.

A few months later, Netanyahu said, in a much quoted interview on the eve of the March 17 election, that, “indeed,” no Palestinian state would be created under his leadership.

An international outcry ensued, and, election win secured, Netanyahu rolled back his statement, reiterating his commitment, in principle, to the idea of a peaceful, sustainable “two states for two people.” For Netanyahu, it’s a solution desirable in an ideal world, but impossible to implement in the current chaotic climate rocking the Middle East.

Finding himself confronted again with the Palestinian question in light of the current relentless series of terror attacks against Israelis, Netanyahu is again declaring support in principle for a two-state solution. He also continues to call for the resumption of peace talks. But he doesn’t even try to hide his firm belief that any such endeavor would be ultimately futile.

Speaking at the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Netanyahu said Monday that Israel, because of the turmoil in the region, will have to remain in the West Bank for “the foreseeable future.” He also reportedly said that Israel “will forever live by the sword,” which some mean to take that the Jewish state will have to be eternally vigilant, unable to relent in its readiness to use force to defend itself.

“He didn’t say Israel will never be at peace, he said Israel will always be at arms. But few countries in the world are not at arms,” said MK Michael Oren, a member of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee (though he missed Netanyahu’s appearance there because he was abroad.)

Ambassador Michael Oren (left) welcomes Prime Minister Netanyahu to Washington for a 2010 state visit (photo credit: Moshe Milner/GPO/Flash90 )
Then-ambassador Michael Oren (left) welcomes Prime Minister Netanyahu to Washington for a 2010 state visit (Moshe Milner/GPO/Flash90 )

Netanyahu’s statement about living by the sword is informed by a belief that Jewish people will always be threatened “by anti-Semitism and other dark forces,” Oren said. “He believes that these threats will be both tactical and strategic, if not existential.” This worldview, which he inherited from his late father Benzion, got “translated into very fast-held diplomatic positions” aimed at ensuring that a Palestinian state doesn’t implode and become a stronghold for terror, Oren concluded.

Netanyahu also often says that he opposes a binational state. And he was “super serious” about previous rounds of peace talks, according to Oren, who served as Israeli ambassador to the US while such negotiations were ongoing.

An important element of his somber weltanschauung, or world view, is the conviction that peace has been elusive due to the Palestinian refusal to accept a Jewish state. The demand that follows — that the Palestinians recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people — overrides all other concerns. No demographic threat, no international pressure, no boycott movement and no UN Security Council resolution, Netanyahu has made clear over the years, will get him to let go of what he deems a key precondition of any peace agreement.

At his speech earlier this month to the Zionist Congress, which made headlines due to his assertion of the mufti’s influence on Hitler, Netanyahu once again laid out what he sees as the main reason for the stalemate. The Palestinians “don’t want a state to end the conflict because they want a state to continue the conflict and eradicate the Jewish state,” he declared. “This is what this conflict has always been about.”

The Palestinians not only refuse to recognize Israel as a Jewish nation-state, they are “unwilling to end once and for all the conflict,” he elaborated in the Knesset Monday. They are not prepared to abandon their dream of a “return” to Acre, Haifa, Jaffa and other cities within Israel, he added. “They are not willing to give up the dream of a Palestinian state — not alongside Israel, but in its place. They still teach their children to hate Jews, to see Israel as a colonialist, imperialist entity — the source of all evil.”

The creation of a Palestinian state, he argued, is thus nothing but another ploy to destroy Israel. Add to this Netanyahu’s security considerations, which rule out an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank as long as the Middle East remains a dangerous neighborhood, and you reach the conclusion that this prime minister will never sign off on an agreement establishing a Palestinian state.

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