April 3, 2009
MSM Nothwithstanding, New Israeli Government Aims For Palestinian StatehoodBy Leo Rennert
One day after Israel's new government was sworn in, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman declared that Israel remains fully committed to Palestinian statehood. Specifically, he confirmed that Israel will abide by the terms of the 2003 "road map" (full text) promulgated by George W. Bush, which explicitly calls for "Israel and a sovereign, independent, democratic and viable Palestine, living side by side in peace and security."
However, you wouldn't know this from mainstream media reports that Lieberman was walking away from the peace process and meaningful negotiations with the Palestinians, because he said that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's government is not obligated to pursue a different route to Palestinian statehood as drafted by an international conference in Annapolis, in late 2007.
For example, the New York Times, in a sky-is-falling dispatch by Israel Kershner, sounded an alarm of dire prospects on the peace front, focusing on the Annapolis formula, which envisaged a short-cut to final status negotiations . Yet, after a year of high-level talks between Mahmoud Abbas and then-Prime Minister Olmert and then- Foreign Minister Livni, these negotiations yielded absolutely nothing.
"New Israeli Foreign Minister Bluntly Dismisses U.S. Peace Effort," screamed the headline over Kershner's article, which labeled Lieberman variously as "hawkish nationalist," "ultranationalist" and, for good meaasure, "racist." Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, in contrast, was presented as a statesman bewailing that "Israel closed the door in the face of the international community."
Of course, Israel did no such thing. By firmly endorsing the road map, it is in total synch with "the international community" since the road map is also the handiwork of the European Union, Russia and the United Nations in concert with Washington.
Times readers got only a brief , belated glimpse -- in Kernshner's 16th paragraph -- that Lieberman preferred the road map as a more promising approach toward a sustainable two-state solution.
Why such glaring misreporting?
Since February's Israeli election results, mainstream media have become invested in delegitimizing Netanyahu's Likud-led government as a far-right, ultra-nationalistic regime that would block all paths toward a two-state solution. Demonization of the Likud and Lieberman became part of their agenda.
Never mind that Israel signed a peace treaty with Egypt that surrendered the Sinai 30 years ago under then-Likud Prime Minister Menachem Begin. Never mind that Ariel Sharon, an erstwhile Likudnik, unilaterally withdrew from all of Gaza. And never mind that Netanyahu already made clear that he would continue peace talks with the Palestinians.
None of this mattered. Mainstream media had too much invested in their anti-Bibi coverage agenda to get out of that groove. If Netanyahu didn't immediately accept Palestinian statehood -- with no ifs, and, or buts -- he was labeled a radical foe of a two-state solution.
Thus, the media brushed aside the real news from Lieberman's debut as foreign minister -- that Israel remains ready for further peace talks explicitly aimed at Palestinian statehood under Bush's road map, as signed by Israel and endorsed by its parliament, the Knesset. At the same time, Lieberman pointed out that Israel never signed the Annapolis declaration nor did the Knesset ratify it.
What's the difference between the two approaches, which both call for Palestinian statehood? The difference is critical. The road map puts a permanent end to Palestinian terrorism at the head of the negotiating line. The Annapolis formula starts with an immediate lunge toward Palestinian statehood, disregarding Hamas rule in Gaza and continued terrorist threats from the West Bank.
The road map delineates a three-stage, "performance-based: process of reciprocal steps by the two parties. It's a mutual confidence-building formula that conditions progress on full implementation of obligations at each step before the next one can be taken.
Thus, Phase One calls on Palestinians to put a permanent end to terrorism and to anti-Israel incitement, and for Israel to freeze settlement activity and remove illegal outposts in the West Bank. Palestinian statehood, it asserts, can come about only "when Palestinians have a leadership acting decisively against terrorism."
Phase 2 envisages strengthening Palestinian institutions and establishment of temporary borders for an eventual Palestinian state. But it's not until Phase 3 that the parties are called on to negotiate final-status issues, including permanent borders, refugees and Jerusalem.
Thus, Lieberman unmistakably served notice that Israel was prepared to move toward a two-state solution contingent on an end to terrorism -- a condition then-Secretary of State Rice gave short shrift to in Bush's second term. With Bush and Rice nearing the end of their tenure and wishing to leave some kind of peacemaking legacy, Rice arranged an international conference in Annapolis in November, 2007, that ended up standing the road map on its head.
Instead of waiting until the parties had fulfilled their obligations under the first two phases of the "road map," Rice pushed through a declaration that called for immediate final-status talks, even as Israel was under continued rocket attacks from Hamas-ruled Gaza and the Palestinian Authority under Mahmoud Abbas didn't even take baby steps to dismantle terrorist cells in the West Bank , while countenancing anti-Israel hatred in its media, schools and mosques.
Under White House pressure, Olmert accepted Annapolis . Livni met for nearly a year in intensive negotiations with PA leaders. Olmert offered Abbas 93 to 95 percent of the West Bank, plus all of Gaza, plus a land corridor between Gaza and the West Bank. Abbas, like Arafat at Camp David in 2000, walked way, sticking to maximalist demands like a "right of return" to Israel for millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants.
In recent weeks, President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton -- without signaling whether they had a preference between the "road map" and Annapolis -- started a drumbeat that Palestinian statehood is Priority One in their diplomacy for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This, in turn, fueled media predictions that Jerusalem and Washington were headed toward a collision over peace talks and moves toward Palestinian statehood.
But now that Lieberman has embraced the road map, Palestinian statehood is back on the table -- once Palestinians get rid of Hamas and other terrorist groups.
And what, pray tell, is wrong with that? Wouldn't any other nation, faced with terrorist threats on its borders, demand the same before cutting irreversible deals with neighbors? In fact, wasn't insistence on an end to sectional terrorism in Northern Ireland as a pre-condition for power-sharing the key to the success of the Good Friday agreement?
Given the dismal failure of Annapolis, Obama is now left with a clear choice -- to opt for Palestinian statehood via the road map and to make good on his pledge of unalterable support of Israel's security interests, or to pressure Israel to continue the kabuki dance of pretend negotiations leading nowhere that Livni and Rice choreographed in the final year of Bush's presidency.
Either way, there is no quick payoff in the offing. The choice is between genuine diplomatic realism that could lead to some progress and illusionism that cheats both sides of their futures.