Arabs running out of patience as Netanyahu hardens stance


The West must confront Binyamin Netanyahu or risk alienating Arab democrats, writes MICHAEL JANSEN

PALESTINIAN AND Arab political figures have roundly rejected Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s recent address to the US congress, spelling out his vision of a peace deal with the Palestinians.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas said yesterday that Netanyahu had offered “nothing we can build on . . . We said in the past and we still say our choice is negotiation, negotiation and nothing but negotiation. But if nothing happens by September we will go to the UN and ask for recognition” of a Palestinian state within the 1967 ceasefire lines.

“Our aim is not to isolate [Israel] or to delegitimise it. It [our plan] is not an act of terror and not a unilateral act.”

Abbas intends to consult other Arab leaders with the aim of formulating a common response. Officials in the West Bank city of Ramallah accused Netanyahu of putting “obstacles” on the path to peace.

Gaza’s de facto premier Ismail Haniyeh responded with defiance. “We will insist on reconciliation [with Fatah], bolster steadfastness and face occupation with unity.”

He called for mass peaceful resistance and honest implementation of the agreement for the formation of a unity government of technocrats and elections for president and parliament before next summer.

Senior Fatah figure Nabil Shaath accused Netanyahu of “waging war on the peace process”. Former Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat complained that Israel sought to “dictate the results of negotiations before they begin”. Outgoing Arab League secretary general Amr Moussa said Netanyahu’s stand was “unworkable”.

As the leading candidate in Egypt’s presidential race, Moussa has vowed to adopt a policy toward Israel that reflects the popular consensus rather than emulate the personal pro-Israel line of ousted president Hosni Mubarak.

Analysts identified more than half a dozen Nos in Netanyahu’s address: Israel will not withdraw fully from Palestinian territory occupied in 1967 – 22 per cent of geographic Palestine – or uproot Jewish settlements in areas designated for the Palestinian state.

Palestinian refugees will not return to Israel and there will be no Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem. Israel will not vacate the border with Jordan so that Israeli troops will surround and control the West Bank.

Israel will not negotiate as long as the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation pact is in force and until the Palestinians scrap their plan to seek international recognition.

Netanyahu also assumes these points as given: Israel will not halt settlement expansion in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and there will be no negotiations until Palestinians recognise Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people.

Netanyahu’s Nos were more than double the number of Nos adopted by the Arab summit in Khartoum in August 1967.

Still reeling from the shock of the June war, Arab rulers proclaimed no negotiations with Israel, no recognition of Israel and no peace with Israel.

The three Nos, castigated by Israel and its Western allies, were formally abandoned at the 2002 Beirut summit which offered full Arab normalisation of relations and peace in exchange for full Israeli withdrawal from Arab land occupied in 1967.

Israel has ignored this plan, regarded as a lost opportunity by most Western powers.

If Netanyahu sticks to his negative stand, Arab leaders could very well fall back on the three Nos proclaimed in 1967 as this policy reflects the attitude toward Israel of the once despised but now honoured democratic “Arab street”, which rose against rulers seen as colluding with Israel and the US.

The failure of the US and Europe to confront Netanyahu’s Nos could alienate the very Arab democrats the West is currently courting.