Editor's Note: The following is a transcript of an interview with Zvika Krieger, senior vice president of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace and former Middle East correspondent for Newsweek Magazine.
I think that the speech was a clear attempt by Prime Minister Netanyahu to patch things up with President Obama. His strategy last week when he arrived in Washington seemed to be to emphasize his differences with Obama – going so far as to misrepresent the President’s position on the 1967 lines. In his speech today he bent over backwards to quote the President and show that in fact their positions are quite similar, particularly that the president did not demand that Israel return to the 1967 lines.
The parameters that President Obama set for a basis of negotiations allow for an incredible amount of flexibility. People who are unfamiliar with the terminology and jargon of negotiation think that that Obama was in some way trying to presuppose the outcome of negotiation. But as Netanyahu himself said in his speech today, Obama’s formulation allows for the vast majority of the Israelis that live beyond the 1967 lines to be annexed into Israel under a final peace agreement, and would allow Israel to have its security needs met.
You’ll notice an important part of Netanyahu’s speech - which was not the first time he said it but it’s a relatively new formulation for him – he didn’t say that Israel demands a permanent military presence in the Jordan Valley. He said a long-term presence in the Jordan Valley. That’s very much in line with what President Obama said in his speech - that Israel should not be expected to withdraw militarily from the West Bank until the effectiveness of any security arrangement is demonstrated. The Israel Defense Forces should be able to retain a presence in the Jordan Valley until it is comfortable with any alternate security arrangements.
Netanyahu also made it clear that Israel is going to keep the major settlement blocks but evacuate the settlements outside those blocs. He said that for the first time last week in the Knesset speech, but this is the first time he is saying it in English in front of an American audience. It’s big for Netanyahu to say it, but it has been the assumption of every US administration and every serious negotiation since Camp David. This was Netanyahu’s late arrival to the realm of reality.
There’s an increasing consensus across the board that the Hamas-Fatah unity government was a short-sighted move by Abbas. Abbas says that he is not planning on running for reelection in 2012. He does not think there is any chance for a negotiated peace before he leaves office, so he’s looking for some way to secure his legacy. The way he is doing that is by having the Palestinian statehood resolution passed in the UN and by securing Palestinian unity, which he sees as an accomplishment in and of itself.
If Abbas realizes that the calculations have changed and there is reason to believe that abandoning Hamas may lead to negotiations that have a reasonable chance of succeeding, he may rethink his alliance with Hamas. It has certainly undermined his supporters in the US. The Hill is going full throttle in making sure that Abbas feels the ramifications of allying with a terrorist organization.
The Jerusalem issue is more complicated that Netanyahu makes it out to be. Jerusalem is certainly a sticky issue and I welcomed Netanyahu’s statement that “creativity and good will” may help us get to some final status agreement that is acceptable to both sides. But in the same way that Palestinian leadership must begin conditioning their people for the inevitable compromise on the question of refugees, the Israeli leadership needs to condition their public for the “creativity” that will be needed on Jerusalem.
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