After much hype, yesterday Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and American President Barack Obama met for the first time since both men took office earlier this year. Commentators have been speculating for weeks as to what might happen. What would Obama demand of Netanyahu? What concessions might Israel be willing to make?
Yesterday’s Age editorial suggested that President Obama must press Netanyahu to move forward on final status negotiations, though it added that “the Prime Minister would hardly be likely to accept it” (see more). A more astute Shmuel Rosner suggested in The New Republic that Obama and Netanyahu had their roles to play in what he called ‘A Dangerous Dance’ stating, “Netanyahu needs to maintain the perception that he is hard-nosed enough to risk an attack on Iran’s nuclear-relation installations, while Obama needs to back his attempt at “engagement” by showing some willingness to squeeze the Israeli government. Beneath these performances, however, the outlook of these two leaders is much more alike than commonly thought”.
It seems that Rosner’s predictions have come to fruition because when the meeting eventually came, both sides reaffirmed their commitment to each other and to the peace process.
Obama declared, “I suggested to the Prime Minister that he has a historic opportunity to get a serious movement on this issue during his tenure. That means that all parties involved have to take seriously obligations that they’ve previously agreed to… and to move forward in a way that assures Israel’s security, that stops the terrorist attacks that have been such a source of pain and hardship, that we can stop rocket attacks on Israel, but that also allow Palestinians to govern themselves as an independent state.”
For his part Netanyahu did reaffirm his commitment to a lasting solution. He declared, “The goal has to be an end to conflict. There will have to be compromises by Israelis and Palestinians alike. We’re ready to do our share. We hope the Palestinians will do their share, as well. If we resume negotiations, as we plan to do, then I think that the Palestinians will have to recognise Israel as a Jewish state; will have to also enable Israel to have the means to defend itself. And if those conditions are met, Israel’s security conditions are met, and there’s recognition of Israel’s legitimacy, its permanent legitimacy, then I think we can envision an arrangement where Palestinians and Israelis live side by side in dignity, in security, and in peace” (see more).
The Age online has an interesting take on these statements this morning in an article by Anne Davies entitles ‘Obama, Netanyahu fail to reach two-state deal’. She states, ‘Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has stopped short of committing to a two-state solution as part of a Middle East peace settlement, instead telling President Barack Obama that Israel first requires a demonstration from the Palestinians of a commitment to Israel’s security”. Davies makes this claim as if the requirement of peace and security is the something outrageous for the Israelis to expect from the Palestinians, rather than that it is actually the first condition of the Quartet’s Roadmap to which both Israel and the Palestine Authority (but not Hamas which rules Gaza) have made a firm commitment.
Phase I of the Roadmap states, “Palestinian leadership issues unequivocal statement reiterating Israel’s right to exist in peace and security and calling for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire to end armed activity and all acts of violence against Israelis anywhere. All official Palestinian institutions and end incitement against Israel” (see more). For it to be inferred that this request is unreasonable indicates a basic misunderstanding of what it takes to ensure the fulfillment of any future peace agreement.
The Australian online today provides a more reasonable account of the meeting between the two leaders in an article entitled ‘Netanyahu ready for Palestinian talks’.
Sadly however, it has become common for the media to forget the complexities of the situation when it comes to commenting on the conflict between Israel and its neighbours. Israel agreed to the conditions laid out in the Roadmap. It also attended Annapolis in November 2007. The partner in the peace process is the Palestine Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas of the Fatah Party which controls the West Bank. In nine days time, President Obama will meet with Abbas to discuss the situation, and Abbas will most likely talk about his desire for peace with the Israelis and Netanyahu’s unwillingness to subscribe to a two-state solution. But will commentators ask what Abbas must accept to bring about peace? And what about Gaza which is currently under Hamas control. At the moment, Hamas can hardly sit down with Fatah to discuss the future, let alone make any sort of agreement with the Israelis. How can there be a true and lasting peace without factoring in Hamas?
The landmark documentary “The Case for Israel” was premiered last week in Melbourne to a sell-out audience. Another screening will be held on Monday 1 June 2009 at 7pm at the Classic. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased by contacting WIZO on 9272 5588 or firstname.lastname@example.org OR by contacting the National Council of Jewish Women on 9523 0535 or email@example.com.
Israel Advocacy Analyst
Zionist Council of Victoria