This is the second part of a two-part series on Benjamin Netanyahu. The first article concerned the success of his domestic record. The second article will look at his Palestinian and foreign-policy record.
Netanyahu is described by the media as a hawk regarding Palestinians. President Obama saw him as an obstacle to peace which strained relations with the United States.
In dealing with the Palestinians Netanyahu is constrained by members of his Likud party in addition to the parties making up his coalition government. The government has a slim majority in the Knesset and Netanyahu cannot afford to lose one party. The Palestinians are split as to how to deal with Israel. The more moderate Fatah might be willing to reach an agreement, but the terrorist Hamas is not.
The positions of both sides are far apart. Netanyahu has proposed a demilitarized Palestinian state, recognition of Israel as a Jewish State, Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel and no Palestinian right of return. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has proposed receiving all of the West Bank and Gaza, the right of return of Palestinian refugees, and East Jerusalem as its capital. Hamas has called for the total destruction of the State of Israel.
Twice Israel has offered the Palestinians 95 percent of what they wanted. In 2000 Arafat said no. When asked for a counter-proposal his answer was terror and violence against Israel. In 2008 President Abbas also said no and refused to present a counteroffer. How do you negotiate with people who refuse to reach an agreement?
The New York Times reported in 2003, that a group representing Israelis and Palestinians came up with a Middle East peace plan. I find it interesting that their proposal, known as the Geneva Accord, was similar to Netanyahu’s proposal. However, the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority both condemned the plan. The United States was encouraged by the process, and members of the European Union thought it was a good start, as did other countries.
President Obama was adamant the settlements were an impediment to negotiations. However, we forget when negotiations began between Egyptian President Sadat and Prime Minister Began, Israel had settlements in the Sinai. Sadat wanted to make peace with Israel and a solution was found to eliminate the Sinai settlements. If the Palestinians truly want peace, it is my belief that a solution can be found for the West Bank settlements.
Netanyahu is blamed for the living conditions of Palestinians. Palestinian human rights activist Bassem Eid refutes this assertion saying, “…in my opinion the majority of Palestinians there are more upset with their leaders than with Israelis.” He goes on to talk about government corruption and supporting terrorism with money meant for the Palestinian people. In Gaza, he says, “We died for no reason…The one who imposed three wars on Gaza was Hamas. In every country, the governments use missiles and rockets to protect the people, but Hamas was doing the opposite, using its people to protect its missiles and rockets.” In East Jerusalem, the majority of Palestinians would rather live under the Israelis. Eid has surveys showing “… more and more Palestinians in East Jerusalem are applying for Israeli citizenship.
Netanyahu is a strong opponent of President Obama’s Iran nuclear deal. Many in the American Jewish community were not happy with his address to a joint session the US Congress. While he was not successful in stopping the agreement, his opposition opened the door to better relations with Arab countries. Specifically, relations have improved with Saudi Arabia, the Arab leader against Iran.
Israel’s economic strength has helped to improve its relations with other countries. The discovery of natural gas along Israel’s coast has improved relations with Turkey because Turkey wanted to cut their dependency on Russian natural gas. Israel’s high tech economy is making it harder for countries to boycott Israel because they need Israel’s unique technology.
Netanyahu is also working to broaden Israel’s contacts with the rest of world. He has traveled extensively throughout Africa and Latin America strengthening relationships and promoting trade with Israel. In addition, he is creating better relations with Russia and Azerbaijan. This helps to reduce Israel’s dependence on the US and the European Union.
One can criticize the Netanyahu government as too hawkish. However, history has shown when Liberal governments have made generous offers to the Palestinians they have been rejected. If the Palestinians really want peace, they will come to the table and negotiate. Netanyahu cannot be condemned because the Palestinians refuse to talk.
Netanyahu has made great strides to improve Israel’s standing amongst the Arabs and the non-aligned world. This is a part of his legacy. When asking the question why not Benjamin Netanyahu? I believe history will judge him to be one of Israel’s great leaders.
Gary Porter is a long-time businessman in North Dakota where also served two terms in the North Dakota House of Representatives and was the Republican candidate for Congress in 1994. He served as the chairman and executive director of the North Dakota Republican Party. He now lives in Plymouth and has joined the JCRC’s Speakers Bureau.