Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu may meet as early as next month, and the New York Times is already teeing up a conflict between Israel and the United States over whether Netanyahu will support a Palestinian state. Helene Cooper reports Obama is “girding for a protracted showdown” over the pursuit of Palestinian statehood and she predicts the meeting will be “pretty interesting” as a result.
But the issue is one the President might describe as a false choice. The question is not whether there should be a Palestinian state, but what kind of Palestinian state there might be. Netanyahu could endorse a Palestinian state – in the same terms Obama used to do so in his June 2008 speech to 7,000 people at AIPAC. Here is what such a Netanyahu speech would look like (everything inside quotation marks is from Obama’s speech):
I have been asked if I support a Palestinian state, and the answer is: it depends. No one wants a Palestinian state like the one Arafat ran, or the one Hamas is running in Gaza. In the last Palestinian election, the Palestinians elected Hamas to control their government: no two-state solution is possible as long as terrorists are the people’s choice. “The long road to peace requires Palestinian partners committed to making the journey.”
“We must isolate Hamas unless and until they renounce terrorism, recognize Israel’s right to exist, and abide by past agreements. There is no room at the negotiating table for terrorist organizations.” There is another Palestinian election scheduled for January: we hope the Palestinians elect candidates who campaign on the need to make the journey down the long road to peace.
In the meantime, “Arab governments [should] take steps to normalize relations with Israel” and “Egypt must cut off the smuggling of weapons into Gaza.” For our part, “consistent with [our] security, [we] will take steps to ease the freedom of movement for Palestinians, improve economic conditions in the West Bank, and to refrain from building new settlements.” But lest there be any doubt:
“Let me be clear. Israel’s security is sacrosanct. It is non-negotiable. The Palestinians need a state that is contiguous and cohesive, and that allows them to prosper – but any agreement with the Palestinian people must preserve Israel’s identity as a Jewish state, with secure, recognized and defensible borders. Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided.”
If the Palestinians elect leaders who are prepared to endorse a Jewish state with defensible borders and an undivided Jerusalem as its capital, I will be prepared to endorse a contiguous and cohesive Palestinian state in return. But to date even those who have been willing to negotiate with us have been unwilling to endorse a Jewish state, or defensible borders, or an undivided Jerusalem.
It is not Israel who bears the burden of proof here: we withdrew every settlement and every soldier from Gaza and saw it become a staging area for rockets into Israel, and we watched the Palestinians elect Hamas four months later. We await the emergence of Palestinian leaders, elected by the people, who are committed to negotiate based on the principles outlined above, which I believe are consistent with those expressed last year by the President of the United States.