The Required Arab Response to Netanyahu

The preconditions put forward by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his speech before the joint session of Congress are his and Israel's onus alone. The most appropriate Arab response to the strategic framework proposed by Netanyahu for the peace process is to ignore it and act on the basis that this affair does not concern the Arabs. Each of the Arab and Israeli sides has its own visions and strategic frameworks, and within each camp, there are disagreements on both essence and implementation. At the end of the road, however, everybody's options are limited.

Just like war with Israel is not an option for the Arabs, war with the Arabs is not an option for Israel at this juncture. The Israeli government seeks to preserve the status quo intact but fears that this may not be possible amid the winds of change blowing across the region. For this reason, Israel proposes peace offers that it has already constrained with impossible conditions with the aim of evading the implementation of the two-state solution.

Once again, Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to retreat forward to avoid the commitments of peacemaking, extend the status quo between war and peace, and manipulate the Palestinian fate through occupation and postponement of the two-state solution. Netanyahu was perhaps most angered by President Barack Obama's reference in his speech to the Palestinians' "right of self-determination," in addition to the strategic framework proposed by Obama for the outcome of the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, namely, two states along the armistice lines of 1967 with land swaps agreed upon by both sides.

Netanyahu wanted to go on with the peace 'process' but without arriving at any outcome. This is why he was furious at what Obama said: that it is time to clearly define the goal of these negotiations. Netanyahu also found change in the Arab arena an excuse to postpone serious negotiations for the establishment of the Palestinian state. However, Obama responded by saying: I disagree that the time is not appropriate now, but rather believe the opposite is true.

Netanyahu became even more furious. However, it is not the U.S. President alone who provoked the ire of the Israeli Prime Minister, but also a considerable segment of Israeli society that opposes his hindrance and obstruction of the two-state solution. He was also infuriated by a significant proportion of American Jews who want to see a permanent solution and who challenge the domination of some influential Jewish organizations in the United States to impose their extremist ideas when it comes to Israel, even at the expense of American national interests.

Benjamin Netanyahu thus turned to AIPAC, one of these Jewish organizations, to protect him from Obama's pressure to make peace. However, his strongest sanctuary by far was the U.S. Congress and its blind support for any Israeli government, even if this government's policies run contrary to the interests of Israel itself.

Certain media outlets, especially television networks, showed the same amount of subservience to Netanyahu as the U.S. Congress and carried sound bites and snippets from Netanyahu's speech for the purposes of media sensationalism in an amazing show of naivety. However, this does not invalidate another reality on the U.S. scene -- be it the media, the public opinion, the government or in policymaking circles -- which is the explicit disagreement with the Israeli Prime Minister and his prohibitive ideas for the peace process.

The Congress is solitary among U.S. official institutions that have lined up behind the strategic framework adopted by the U.S. President. This, while bearing in mind that the State Department, the National Security Council, and the Department of Defense are all in agreement with the gist of Obama's speech, as they consider the matter at hand to be at the core of U.S. national interests. At the international level as well, Netanyahu is leading Israel to major isolation by rejecting the internationally recognized foundations of the two-state solution.

Today, there are four initiatives or proposals, either conflicting or complementary to one another, regarding the Arab-Israeli question:

* The Arab Peace Initiative which offers recognition of and peaceful coexistence with Israel in return for its withdrawal to the 1967 lines to end the occupation and allow the establishment of the Palestinian State with East Jerusalem as its capital.

* The non-governmental Israeli initiative for peace proposed by 40 prominent politicians, military and cultural figures in Israel, which came as a response to the Arab Peace Initiative. The signatories included the former head of the Shin Bet and former IDF Chief of Staff, as well as former head of the Mossad, former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's son and others. The crux of this initiative is that the Palestinian State must be established on the basis of an Israeli withdrawal from the Arab territories occupied in 1967, with land swaps, with East Jerusalem as its capital, and that the status of the Palestine refugees must be settled either through reparations or their return to the Palestinian state, except for some cases whereby some refugees are allowed to return to Israel proper.

* The U.S. President's initiative is very similar to the unofficial Israeli initiative which revolves around the fundamentals laid down by the former Democratic President Bill Clinton and the vision of the former Republican President George W. Bush, who in turn had spoken about putting an end to the occupation of the territories of 1967. However, what's new about Obama's proposal is that it has clearly set out the features of the outcome of the negotiations, with two states on the basis of the 1967 borders with mutually agreed land swaps, thereby putting an end the 'process' lasting indefinitely. In other words, he said something to the effect that the two states must have boundaries and the process must have limits, because patience, too, runs out.

* The official Israeli initiative as put forward by Benjamin Netanyahu before the U.S. Congress, outlines the conditions for implementing the two-state solution by rejecting the 1967 lines, keeping the settlements, insisting on Jerusalem as a unified capital of Israel, and security guarantees that comprise permanent Israeli military deployment along the Jordan River. This is in addition to prior recognition by the President of the Palestinian National Authority Mahmoud Abbas of Israel as a "Jewish State" and his abandonment of the agreement he concluded with Hamas within the framework of Palestinian reconciliation.

Benjamin Netanyahu and all those who support him in his bid for the recognition of Israel as a "Jewish State" must define what this means exactly. It is the responsibility of the European countries and the other parties to the Quarter to demand Israel to guarantee it would not expel or deport the 1.5 million Israeli Arabs and to guarantee them full equality with the Jews in Israel in the so-called Jewish State.

Hamas too must clarify the meaning and end the ambiguity in its stances if it is truly sincere in its willingness to accept peace with Israel on the basis of the two-state solution with the borders of 1967. It is not logical to conduct negotiations with an entity that Hamas refuses to recognize its right to exist. Hamas must choose and clarify, just like Israel must do. Ambiguity is a common denominator between them and this does not serve the cause of the two-state solution but instead undermines the chances of its success.

As for Netanyahu's demand that Abbas discard the Palestinian reconciliation and his comparison of Hamas to al Qaeda, this is sinister because in reality his goal is to incite and provoke in order to obtain an excuse to evade U.S. and international pressure to achieve peace.

The strategy of nonviolently besieging Israel and through civil disobedience is more effective than the strategy of provoking Netanyahu through military action.

Israel is well versed in war but is befuddled and confused when it is faced with an unarmed march towards the border, civil disobedience or peaceful uprising like the one taking place within the Arab spring.

Continuing to build the institutions of the Palestinian State and providing financial, moral and political support to this state will force Israel to deal with a de facto reality that is outside of its control, which will practically lead to the end of the occupation against Israel's will, not with its consent.

For this reason, ignoring Benjamin Netanyahu's proposals as a strategy adopted by the Arabs is a good option along with persistent lobbying with Europe, Russia, the UN and the U.S. administration in order to bolster and enhance international consensus over the form of the final status, should the negotiations be resumed.

The 'process' of buying time and stalling, with a view to continue the 'peace process' for and by itself, has now come to an end. Barack Obama has dared break that vicious cycle that in reality was the foundation of U.S. policy practically masterminded by Mr. Process himself, Dennis Ross. In fact, Ross today is part of Barack Obama's vision in his capacity as the official responsible for drafting U.S. policies on the Middle East at the National Security Council.

The U.S.-Israeli, or Jewish-Jewish dispute, has nothing to do with the Arabs. The Arabs must instead push forward with the Arab Peace Initiative, civil disobedience, and Palestinian state-building on the ground, while mobilizing international support for the accession of the Palestinian state to the UN. They must launch an intensive campaign in the media to show that the Arabs are advocates of peace and coexistence, and that it is Netanyahu's Israel that rejects both peace and coexistence.

Arab Americans meanwhile, are attempting to put pressure on Congress, but they will most probably fail. This is because the political structure of the U.S. Congress and the American electoral process relies greatly on Jewish funds and votes.

Members of Congress did well as they stood up repeatedly in ovation for the Israeli Prime Minister as he was digging the grave for the Two- State solution, challenging the American President, and ridiculing American National Interest. They did well because they showed the world how difficult is the task of Barack Obama and how brave is his initiative in the midst of a Congress that puts the American national interest in the back seat bowing to Israeli dictation.

President Obama has no other option now but to stay the course without any hesitation or backing away or bowing to intimidation. If he succumbs, he would gamble with his chance for a second term because that would be waged against him as a testimony to an inbuilt weakness and lack of resolve.

If he perseveres, he might gather up the dormant courage in the hearts of many Americans, including increasing numbers of Jewish Americans, to de-stifle the debate, which rages amongst Israelis more freely, and to deliver on the two-state solution, which is the best outcome for Israel itself as well as for America's national interests.

Raghida Dergham - New York