Since his Bar Ilan speech last June, Netanyahu has been boasting of his “outstretched hand,” his genuine intentions to make peace with his neighbors, and his stoic patience in waiting for a Palestinian partner to finally grab this incredible opportunity”, Joharah Baker writes
Since that speech, it has been easy for Netanyahu to “talk the talk” because the Palestinians would have nothing to do with him. This, of course, largely had to do with the fact that in all his “generosity,” the only vision of peace Netanyahu could muster was a demilitarized Palestinian state with no prospect of a capital in Jerusalem alongside an Israel who’s Jewishness the Palestinians would have to clearly recognize. Enticing as this might sound; the Palestinians taking their cue from the United States were adamant that settlement construction had to stop before they would mull over sitting back down at the negotiating table.
Netanyahu, apparently to keep up the flimsy facade of peacemaker for as long as possible, announced an even flimsier 10-month freeze on West Bank settlement construction. Freeze, in this case, must be used extremely loosely given that it does not include expansion of East Jerusalem settlements, construction already under way before the announcement, or public buildings such as schools and synagogues. That leaves a whole lot of construction, which settlers were quick to initiate the moment the decision came out.
But unfortunate as it is, Palestinians have grown accustomed to the ever-expanding colonies on their land. Even under the Oslo accords and the “road map,” this stipulates a freeze to settlement construction, the red-roofed all-Jewish homes kept popping up at exponential rates.
In a highly provocative move that was certain to undermine any promise of peace, Netanyahu declared two West Bank holy sites part of a list of Israeli heritage sites. The Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, known to Jews as the Cave of the Patriarchs, and the Bilal bin Rabah Mosque in Bethlehem, or Rachel’s Tomb, have long been flashpoints of confrontation between Israeli settlers and troops and Palestinian worshippers. Needless to say, Netanyahu’s announcement fanned these flames tenfold, with protests and clashes occurring almost daily in Hebron near the mosque since.
In response to the declaration, Washington called the move “provocative and unhelpful” in getting the two parties back to the negotiating table.
Nevertheless, since that February 25 announcement, one major development has occurred and the Palestinian leadership will enter into proximity talks with Israel at the behest of the Arab League. The Arabs and Palestinians will ostensibly give Israel a four-month window of opportunity at the negotiating table before taking the case to the United Nations Security Council, the International Court of Justice or some other international venue they believe might help them put Israel in its place.
Even if the parties return to direct negotiations, in all likelihood it won’t matter.
Even with the most “dovish” of Israel’s leaders at the helm, Palestinian statehood was never realized. On the contrary: settlements not only remained in place but expanded while other damning facts on the ground, such as the separation wall and the draconian permit system for Palestinian movement, have proven that leaders like Netanyahu have a less than peaceful agenda in mind. The Israeli agenda involves the acquisition of the greatest amount of Palestinian land possible before final-status talks begin the guarantee of a highly militarized Jewish state with Jerusalem as its capital, and a reservation-like solution for the Palestinians in a few patches of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.