The Palestinian Authority’s announcement that a reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas had been signed in Cairo prompted an immediate response from the government. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu issued the following statement: “The Palestinian Authority must choose between peace with Israel and peace with Hamas. There cannot be peace with both since Hamas aims to destroy Israel and says so openly.”
Indeed, the prime minister made clear and unequivocal Israel’s negative reaction to the dramatic development. But that is insufficient. It does not help the public understand how the government will face the looming challenge in September, when a majority of member states at the UN General Assembly will likely support the establishment of a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with its capital in Jerusalem.
Netanyahu’s statement also gives no hint of whether he will use his upcoming speech before Congress to introduce a new diplomatic initiative. Most importantly, no one – in Israel or the world – has any idea how the Israeli leadership plans to alleviate the danger of the country becoming a binational state.
NOW WOULD be the right time for the prime minister to convene a special session in the Knesset and give the following speech:
“Respected Knesset, citizens of Israel,
“The direction in which the Palestinian Authority is heading does not bode well. Certainly, the Fatah- Hamas agreement has only been initialed at this stage and many obstacles still exist on the path to its implementation.
But the possibility that the parties will overcome the difficulties they face cannot be ruled out. The practical implication of this internal reconciliation is that it paves the way for new, general elections in Judea, Samaria and Gaza in approximately a year. These elections would determine which direction the Palestinians will take: toward a diplomatic settlement based on a historic compromise with Israel, or the renewal of a violent struggle against us for years to come.
“Within the Israeli public, there are those who hope the moderate Palestinian leadership will disappear. There are even some in my government, and in my coalition, who believe that the more Hamas fanatics are strengthened, the more international pressure on Israel to make generous concessions to the Palestinians decreases. This approach is short-sighted. Our desire to end the conflict with our neighbors is not because of the entreaties of our friends in Washington, Paris or Bonn, but rather, because we understand that peace serves Israel’s long-term interests. For this reason, the possibility of religious zealots, motivated by hatred, ruling eternally over millions of Palestinians living next door to us brings me no pleasure. Quite the reverse: This is a scenario filled with dangers, and my government must act to ensure that it does not come to pass.
“The only means by which we can constructively impact developments is to help improve the chances that the extremist side suffers defeat in the Palestinian elections. This outcome is possible only if the pragmatic camp, led by Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad, can convince its people that negotiations with Israel will be more productive than terrorism.
“Over the past two years, I have tried to resume direct talks with the Palestinian leadership. In the “Bar- Ilan speech” I delivered in June 2009, I adopted the principle of two states for two peoples. In November 2009, I initiated a 10-month settlement construction freeze. We also worked to improve the welfare of Palestinians by removing checkpoints in Judea and Samaria and by encouraging economic ventures.
“Unfortunately we didn’t see any reciprocal gestures from the other side. The Palestinian Authority is now focusing its efforts not on dialogue with us, but on promoting a unilateral resolution at the UN General Assembly in September. While such a decision would likely place Israel in an embarrassing position of isolation, it would do nothing concrete to promote the Palestinian goal of statehood. The realization of the two-state vision is possible only through direct negotiations and reciprocal and painful compromises.
“I have concluded that the time is ripe to take even bolder steps than those we have taken over the past two years. Time is not on our side. I want to restore Palestinian confidence in the advantages of resuming negotiations. I cannot accede to the demand to renew a settlement construction freeze in Judea and Samaria. We are already acting with great restraint in this field, and as I have already made clear, we cannot place further impositions on the settlers. In any case, the fate of each and every community will be determined in accordance with future agreements, and we must now focus on achieving an overall accord.
“I am aware that the composition of the current coalition has created skepticism over its commitment to the diplomatic process. Furthermore, I am aware that many around the world, among them friends of Israel, harbor grave doubts over my willingness to be as flexible as is necessary to ensure the success of any negotiations.
“Therefore, I have decided to take a step that, although it constitutes a political risk for me, has the capacity to bolster confidence in my honest intentions to negotiate an end to this conflict.
“I want to immediately start negotiations with the head of the opposition regarding Kadima’s inclusion in the government. For this purpose, I am prepared to start over and reopen discussions on the government’s founding principles. An explicit provision allowing this, indeed, was included in the coalition agreements that underpin the current government. If talks do lead to the formation of a new government, I will ask Tzipi Livni, as deputy prime minister, to oversee negotiations with the Palestinians, and use all her skills and extensive experience to advance the diplomatic process. I am convinced that the two of us, along with Defense Minister Ehud Barak, can agree among ourselves on the goals of negotiations with the Palestinians, holding firm to Israel’s overall national and security interests.
“If negotiations proceed well, we will all benefit, and our region will be able to place all its disagreements behind it.
“If the Palestinians prove incapable of making the difficult compromises without which an agreement cannot be reached, the citizens of Israel will know with absolute certainty that we, the leaders representing a wall-to-wall consensus, did everything we could to achieve true peace.
“I understand that this initiative may provoke tension and perhaps even create schisms within my government. The coalition is more stable than ever, and from a parliamentary standpoint there is no need to expand it. Nevertheless, I believe that the sense of national duty among my government partners will prevail over partisan considerations.
“At a time when the Arab world surrounding us is experiencing major upheaval, whose implications we cannot yet predict; at a time when the world is finding it difficult to deter Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons; at a time when the Palestinians have set aside bitter rivalries, and are showing maturity and wisdom, we, the country’s leaders, must summon the courage to rise above fleeting interests and find the common denominator that unites us.
“This is my message, and I expect the opposition to show responsibility and accept my invitation.”