Martin Indyk: Israel Must Take Risks for Peace

Roundup: Media's Take

[Martin Indyk, Middle East adviser to president Bill Clinton, will speak at the Lowy Institute in Sydney on Wednesday and is the author of the recently published book Innocent Abroad: An Intimate Account of American Peace Diplomacy in the Middle East.]

ISRAELI Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's press conference with President Barack Obama at the White House last week conjures memories of a time 16 years ago when a new, young president, committed to achieving Middle East peace, stood next to a newly elected Israeli prime minister and inaugurated a partnership in peacemaking.

Then, as last week, they had just concluded an extensive private meeting in which Yitzhak Rabin had told Bill Clinton he was willing to make a full withdrawal from the Golan Heights to achieve peace with Syria.

Reflecting the tone but not the content of that secret conversation, Clinton told the assembled press that Rabin had expressed a willingness to take risks for peace and that he had responded to the Israeli leader, "If you do that, my role is to minimise those risks."

Whatever happened in their private meeting, Netanyahu certainly didn't sound in public as if he had told Obama in private that he was willing to take risks for peace. Reflecting fear of antagonising his right-wing supporters, Netanyahu avoided publicly committing himself to accepting an independent Palestinian state as the outcome of peace negotiations.

Instead, he spoke of "self-government" for the Palestinians and laid down what sounded like a new precondition: the Palestinians would have to "allow Israel the means to defend itself". What Netanyahu apparently means is a Palestinian state minus the means to defend itself, or to control its airspace, or its international passage ways.

These are reasonable concerns given Israel's experience with its unilateral withdrawal from and uprooting of all settlements in Gaza; Hamas took control there and rained some 7000 rockets down on Israel's civilian population. Netanyahu is right to vow that he will not allow that to happen in the West Bank if Israel withdraws from there. But by refusing to declare his support for an independent Palestinian state, albeit with restrictions on its sovereignty, he focuses the Palestinians on what they will have to give up rather than what they will have to gain from an end of the Israeli occupation. It's an offer they can too easily refuse, leaving Obama in the unwelcome position of having to drag them to the negotiating table. That will hardly endear him to the new Israeli prime minister.

So too with the new potential for Arab state involvement in the peace process: Netanyahu correctly identifies the shared concern of the US, Israel and the Arab states about Iran's hegemonic regional ambitions and its aggressive nuclear program.

In Obama's view, too, working with Arab leaders to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could help counter Iran. But Netanyahu appears to have handed Obama the challenge of bringing these Arab leaders to the peace party without indicating what he will do either to get them there or to reward them for the risk of coming. That's an invitation they will easily refuse...
Read entire article at Australian

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