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Netanyahu Outlines Vision for a Demilitarized Palestinian State with Israel Controlling the Borders and Airspace of Palestine

June 15, 2009



Arik Ascherman

Executive Director of Jerusalem-based Rabbis for Human Rights. He is currently on a speaking tour in the United States.

David Makovsky

co-author of a new book on US policy in the Middle East, along with Dennis Ross, who is the Obama administration’s special adviser on Iran. The book is called Myths, Illusions, and Peace: Finding a New Direction for America in the Middle East.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered what was billed as a major policy speech on Sunday, accepting the creation of a Palestinian state on the condition that it would be completely demilitarized and have no control over its airspace. He also said that Israel would refuse to engage with Hamas. Palestinian officials condemned Netanyahu’s speech, saying it closed the door to permanent status negotiations. [includes rush transcript]


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re asking David Makovsky to stay with us. We’ll be joined by the head of the Israeli group Rabbis for Human Rights. But first, I wanted to go to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivering what was billed as a major policy speech Sunday, accepting the creation of a Palestinian state on the condition that it would be completely demilitarized and have no control over its airspace. He also said Israel would refuse to engage with Hamas.

    PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: [translated] Above all, Palestinians must make one important choice: they must decide between the way of peace and the way of Hamas. The Palestinian Authority must impose law and order in the Gaza Strip and overcome Hamas. Israel will not negotiate with terrorists trying to destroy it.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, earlier this month, while speaking in Cairo, President Obama said he wanted all settlement activity to stop.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel’s right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine’s. The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements.

AMY GOODMAN: But Prime Minister Netanyahu did not back away from his position of supporting, quote, “natural growth” in the settlements and said illegal Jewish settlers in the West Bank should be, quote, “allowed to lead normal lives.”

    PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: [translated] The territorial issue will be discussed as a part of a final [inaudible] Above all, Palestinians must make one important choice: they must decide between the way of peace and the way of Hamas. The Palestinian Authority must impose law and order in the Gaza Strip and overcome Hamas. Israel will not negotiate with terrorists trying to destroy it.

AMY GOODMAN: David Makovsky is still with us in Washington, co-author of the new book with Dennis Ross, who’s former chief peace negotiator on the Israel-Palestine conflict under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. The book, Myths, Illusions, and Peace: Finding a New Direction for America in the Middle East.

And we’re joined via Democracy Now! video stream by the executive director of the Jerusalem-based Rabbis for Human Rights, Rabbi Arik Ascherman, who’s in the United States on a speaking tour.

Welcome to Democracy Now! Rabbi Ascherman, your response to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s major address yesterday?

RABBI ARIK ASCHERMAN: Well, it’s, of course, significant that he even made a policy address. Israeli leaders don’t usually do that. That shows that he — that our prime minister felt a need to respond to President Obama in a very significant way.

I’m, unfortunately, always remembered of the words of our former prime minister, Yitzhak Shamir, when he was voted out of office. He had been the prime minister during the beginning of the Madrid process. And he said, “You know, it’s too bad that I was voted out of office. My plan was to keep on talking and talking and talking, all the while creating facts on the ground, so that by the time we actually got anywhere, there would be — it would be moot. There would be nothing really to talk about.”

AMY GOODMAN: David Makovsky, your response?

DAVID MAKOVSKY: Well, I think that this issue of the settlements has, no doubt, been a problem. It’s not been the only problem. There have been a lot of problems also on the Arab side that has made this progress impossible.

But the point is, let’s look forward. I have an op-ed today in the Wall Street Journal, where I said the only way to deal with the settlement issue is to make it moot, is to proceed to territorial negotiations, demarcate the border, and make it clear where Palestine begins, Israel ends, and give hope and really the contours of this two-state solution. I don’t think we can solve all the problems. If this was a football game, we might not be able to throw a hail Mary pass the length of a football field, but if we can throw a screen pass, a short pass, or hand off the ball, we could take the ball seventy yards down the field.

The territorial issue is one of four issues. There’s Jerusalem. There’s refugees. There’s security. And there’s land. Ironically, and this may be kind of a surprise to some of your viewers and listeners, I would argue that of all these four issues, where the issues — where the differences are narrowest is on land. Abbas said that he wanted two percent that Israel could retain with what’s called offsetting territorial swaps. And Olmert said around six-and-a-half percent, the former prime minister. It seems that this is bridgeable.

And it would have very quickly three key benefits. One, it would take the settlements issue off the map, in terms of US-Israel relations, which has been a flashpoint. Second, for the Palestinians, this would vindicate the idea that moderation pays, that negotiations can succeed, and that Hamas extremism fails. And for Israel, by demarcating the border, it would be clear that Israel would — could retain, I think, somewhere around three-quarters of the settlements — settlers, excuse me, not settlements, that live in less than four-and-a-half percent of the territory with offsetting swaps. So, the Palestinians could say, “I got 100 percent of the land,” and the Israelis could say they got something, too. There would be something in it for everyone.

Would we have solved Jerusalem, refugees and security? No. And there would have to be clear timetables for that. We can’t solve this conflict without them. But we have to make progress where we can. We want to be able to — that each side sees dignity for both sides. And I think territorial negotiations can do this and make the settlement issue moot for the first time in forty years.

AMY GOODMAN: Rabbi Arik Ascherman, your response?

RABBI ARIK ASCHERMAN: Well, I agree with David that we shouldn’t get stuck on one particular solution. Of course, as a director of the human rights organization, we don’t have a position on just where the borders should be, that we, of course, say that the settlements are illegal, according to the Fourth Geneva Convention, something that Israel does not accept, but most of legal scholars would, that the occupation must end.

But it is true that it’s the political echelons on both sides that have to define the contours of just what that’s going to look like. The issue is a process. It is a process in which sides sit down and begin to deal with their differences, create a solution that — without coercion, because you can be sitting around a table, and there can be a lot of coercion going on — that both sides eventually not only can agree to, because sometimes leaders will agree so that they’ve said they’ve signed a piece of paper — and what we saw during the Oslo Process was that neither side was able to deliver, in terms of marketing to their own constituents, what they had agreed upon.

AMY GOODMAN: And Prime Minister Netanyahu saying that there could be a Palestinian state, perhaps, if it was demilitarized, if they didn’t control their airspace, Rabbi Ascherman?

RABBI ARIK ASCHERMAN: I don’t think that there is a very likely chance that any Palestinian leadership is going to agree to that. I don’t care if Netanyahu wants to put that on the table for discussion. I am much more concerned about his insistence on the continuation of natural growth. Again, I agree with David that there’s many solutions, and they don’t all entail removing all the settlements.

As we focus on Israel and what Israel and Israelis need to do to become more involved and agreeable to the peace process, let’s not forget that there’s another partner here, the Palestinians. Right now, the credibility of the Palestinian Authority is subterranean. It’s less than zero. And that lack of credibility is largely because, on the ground, Palestinians don’t see any change. We were predicting the Second Intifada a year and a half before it happened. Predicting doesn’t mean justifying violence. But in the same way that the Israelis were becoming disillusioned with the peace process when the Palestine Authority was unwilling or unable to stop terror, average Palestinians saw the ongoing settlement expansion, the ongoing expropriation of land and the other human rights violations, and they said, “This is not going to bring us anything.”

And natural growth is — not only does it mean you have more and more settlers, which will be difficult to remove, and one of the things that we’re doing with Rabbis for Human Rights right now is what’s called Operation Price Tag, where the most radical of the settlers have said that “We’re going to cause so much violence and mayhem every time even one prefab home is removed that the army will have to think two and three and four times about the next time,” and we’ve seen these folks not only burning down Palestinian trees and viciously attacking Palestinians, but attacking Israeli soldiers and police, as well. And so, we have to deal with that. And often, you do a ruse —

AMY GOODMAN: We have fifteen seconds.

RABBI ARIK ASCHERMAN: So you say that you’ve got another neighborhood of the same settlement, but it’s actually a kilometer or so away and it’s taking more land, so it’s an illusion to say that you’re not taking more land when you allow natural growth.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to leave it there. I want to thank Rabbi Arik Ascherman, executive director of Jerusalem-based Rabbis for Human Rights. He’s currently in the United States on a speaking tour. And David Makovsky, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, formerly executive editor of the Jerusalem Post, co-author of the new book with Dennis Ross, of Myths, Illusions, and Peace: Finding a New Direction for America in the Middle East.

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