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ISRAEL/ Winters: Netanyahu's Somersaults

Netanyahu’s re-election is not conducive to hope for a peaceful settlement between the Israelis and Palestinians, but the turmoil in the region has further reasons. By MICHAEL SEAN WINTERS

Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu (Infophoto) Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu (Infophoto)

In the days leading up to the Israeli elections, incumbent Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, worried that his Likud party was slipping in the polls, said that on his watch, there would not be a Palestinian state. On election day itself, he warned that the “right wing government” (his words) was in danger of losing power because Israel’s Arab citizens were turning out in large numbers at the polls.

Both statements were signs of desperation, the first indicating a reversal of long standing Israeli commitment to a two-state solution, no matter which party wins an election, and a direct contradiction of UN Security Council Resolution 242 which, since 1967, has been the only recognizable path to peace and Israel’s most important card in negotiations. (Resolution 242 calls for “secure and recognized borders” and the requirement of security has been Israel’s strongest moral argument in negotiations.) The second comment introduced racial ugliness in a country that surely does not need more of that, and did so on the one day Israel can most obviously demonstrate its difference from its neighbors and why we in the West should support it: The only Arabs in the Mideast who get to vote in free and fair elections are those Arabs who live in Israel.

Mr. Netanyahu probably did not need these last minute efforts to gin up Likud’s share of the vote. His victory was large enough to have won without it. (The raising of the percentage of the vote each party needs to qualify for a seat in the Knesset was the reason why Netanyahu was fishing for votes on his right, instead of in the center.) And, in a display of astoundingly quick cynicism, he distanced himself from his own statements as soon as the polling results were known.

Yesterday, Mr. Netanyahu said, “I don’t want a one-state solution. I want a sustainable, peaceful two-state solution. But for that, circumstances have to change.” I can be forgiven for pointing out that one of those circumstances might well be Mr. Netanyahu’s leaving the Prime Minister’s office. But, let’s look more closely at this statement. He says, “I don’t want a one-state solution.” That makes no sense. A “solution” would require some kind of peace and the Palestinians would never be happy in a Jewish state, and Israel would never risk losing the Jewish character of Israel by incorporating so many Palestinians. This sentence is just gibberish. I believe Mr. Netanyahu wants a sustainable and peaceful two-state solution.

I believe he also thinks such a solution will never be possible. There is some warrant for such a belief. As the late Abba Eban, who was no hawk, said back in 1973, the Palestinians “never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” More importantly, as long as the Likud party needs to the votes of parties committed to additional Israeli settlements in the West Bank, Netanyahu will hardly make the prospects for a sustainable and peaceful solution more likely. Abu Mazen has domestic political considerations as well.

Mr. Netanyahu also tried to walk back his alarmist statement about all those Israeli Arabs voting. He said he understood he was the Prime Minister of all Israelis, Jewish and Arab alike. This is true in a technical sense, but in his long career, Netanyahu has not distinguished himself as a champion of the concerns of Israeli Arabs.