Is there hope for peace between Palestinians and Israelis? The answer is, obviously and sadly, no. Not with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in power. With the current Israeli government thinking as it does, there are no chances for the peace process to move forward.
We have known Benjamin Netanyahu, the main obstacle to peace, for quite some time now. He has been consistently subverting peace. He plays games and adopts tactics, both ominous and dangerous, which get Arabs and Israelis entangled in rhetoric that simply leads nowhere.
And this is exactly his aim: a circuitous, absurd journey in which the Palestinians remain at the negotiating table, sitting tongue- and arm-tied, hoping against hope and waiting uselessly for something to happen, while Israel swallows more Palestinian land, destroys more Palestinian houses, evicts more Palestinians, inflicts more suffering on Palestinian civilians and dilutes all possibilities for a future Palestinian state to come into being.
This time around he is playing two games, aside from allowing the demented settlers to build and expand as much as they like on Palestinian land. One is his insistence that the Palestinians come to the negotiating table with no “preconditions”, the other is his demand that Palestinians recognise Israel as a Jewish state.
While procrastination tactics may fool those who do not know the man and his games, he never fools those who know him and his tactics all too well.
No preconditions means that the Palestinians should forget all previous agreements with the Israeli government, and all progress made in the peace process, however little, from the Madrid conference to Oslo and to the subsequent understandings with a number of Israeli premiers, including Ehud Barak, Ehud Olmert and even Ariel Sharon.
Such agreements and understandings clearly stipulate that Israel must withdraw from the Palestinian territories it occupied by force in 1967, and that Israel be committed to supporting the creation of a viable Palestinian state.
Talks with those Israeli premiers were difficult, to say the least, but there was the promise that some light may appear at the end of the tunnel, and there was some degree of commitment by them to work towards peace.
With Netanyahu, there is no light whatsoever, and there is no commitment to peace. More specifically, by insisting on no preconditions, he wants the Palestinians to ignore all previous Israeli commitments and assurances, and go back to square one.
But no preconditions also means that the Palestinians should forget all about international legality, which unequivocally gave them the right to a state and which clearly demanded total Israeli withdrawal from all occupied territories.
There are several UN Security Council resolutions that are essential for Israel to recognise, and which have been recognised by a number of Israeli prime ministers, in negotiating with Palestinians. Netanyahu wants to annul Israel’s recognition of such resolutions, as well as the resolutions themselves.
What does one expect from an Israeli prime minister who has no respect for or recognition of international legality? What does one expect from an Israeli prime minister who mocks and derides international legality in the boldest and most vulgar terms possible?
The first part of his speech at the UN General Assembly a few days ago contained nothing but insults to the UN body, calling it under its own roof a “house of lies” and of deceit.
Netanyahu’s recent insistence on Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state is another game and another procrastination tactic. For one, Israel has already been recognised by Arab countries and by Palestinians as a state. It took some time. It was not easy for Arab states or Palestinians to recognise an entity that occupied Palestinian and Arab lands by force. But they did it, for the sake of peace. What does Netanyahu mean now by wanting a second recognition?
Furthermore, states, in accordance with international norms and practices, are never recognised on the basis of their religious orientation. Countries do not recognise Ireland as a Protestant state, for example, or Southern Sudan as a Christian state; they simply recognise Ireland or Southern Sudan, just as the Arabs and Palestinians recognised Israel.
This all shows that Netanyahu is shamelessly playing subversive, destructive games.
The sad fact is that even if the Palestinians come to the negotiating table with no preconditions and even if they recognise Israel as a Jewish state, which they should not, they will get nothing from negotiating with the Netanyahu government.
There have to be preconditions for peace. The first and foremost, it seems to me, is the departure of Netanyahu and his government from the Israeli political scene.