ABC’s David Muir interviewed Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday afternoon, shortly after Bill Clinton accused him of “moving the goalposts” (apparently a phrase used by The Cable and not Clinton himself) for negotiations in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Netanyahu strongly disagreed with Clinton’s accusation, and insisted that the Palestinians want a “free ride” to statehood without recognizing Israel or agreeing to necessary security conditions:
MUIR: President Obama and former President Clinton, for that matter, did not support this move by the Palestinians before the U.N. today.
But President Clinton was quoted in the last 24 hours, bluntly saying, reportedly, that your government is to blame for the continued failure of the Middle East peace process, saying that you’d essentially moved the goalposts when you came to power. How do you react to that?
NETANYAHU: Oh, I respectfully disagree. You know, President Clinton knows very well in 2000 at Camp David that — who really made the generous offer, and the Palestinians refused to come. I’m sure that President Bush can tell you what happened at Camp David a few years later, when another Israeli prime minister made a generous offer, and the Palestinians refused to come.
I’ve made a series of offers on day one and since then, on coming to office this trip, and the Palestinians refused to come. The reason they refuse to come is they get away with it. They get a free ride. They basically refuse to sit down and negotiate. And they’re — and we’re branded as the opponents of peace. As long as that continues, they’ll continue to avoid negotiations.
MUIR: But have the goalposts been moved since President Clinton, Camp David, and since President Bush as well?
NETANYAHU: Not at all. I think that the Palestinians so far have not responded to these suggestions. I’d be interested in hearing their response to it. But the most important thing is rather than try to end the negotiations before they begin, I suggest just begin the negotiations. It’s so simple. What could be simpler than a suggestion to just sit down?
Now, there are a lot of things we have to negotiate about. Settlements is one of them. I’ll tell you what the other one is, security. Israel is so tiny. It’s, you know, a little less than the length of Manhattan, without the West Bank, without Judea and Samaria.
So how do we protect it? We’re going to have to have security arrangements, solid security arrangements on the ground, a long-term Israeli military presence in strategic areas in the West Bank. And that requires a negotiation.
And the Palestinians are basically trying to shortcut this. They’re trying to get a state without giving us peace, and without giving us security. That’s wrong. I called on them today to have — to come and negotiate the recognition and security that I think will make peace a real thing, something that could endure for generations.
Clinton’s analysis has a couple of holes in it:
Sharon had decided he needed to build a new centrist coalition, so he created the Kadima party and gained the support of leaders like Tzipi Livni and Ehud Olmert. He was working toward a consensus for a peace deal before he fell ill, Clinton said. But that effort was scuttled when the Likud party returned to power.
“The Israelis always wanted two things that once it turned out they had, it didn’t seem so appealing to Mr. Netanyahu. They wanted to believe they had a partner for peace in a Palestinian government, and there’s no question — and the Netanyahu government has said — that this is the finest Palestinian government they’ve ever had in the West Bank,” Clinton said.
“[Palestinian leaders] have explicitly said on more than one occasion that if [Netanyahu] put up the deal that was offered to them before — my deal — that they would take it,” Clinton said, referring to the 2000 Camp David deal that Yasser Arafat rejected.
Actually, they’re the same hole, which is this: the Palestinians refuse to negotiate. If they want the deal Arafat rejected, then come back to the table and propose it. In a real negotiation, both sides offer proposals, so the idea that Israel is to blame for the standoff because they didn’t re-offer a proposal that directly led to the second intifada to an empty chair is not just risible, it’s downright dishonest. Clinton is essentially legitimizing the Palestinian Authority’s strategy of bypassing Israel and getting everyone else to pressure them into accepting a diktat for statehood without being willing to engage directly with Israel. Why? Because Abbas refuses to publicly recognize Israel’s right to exist.
When I went to Jerusalem in June, Netanyahu addressed the conference at the end, speaking mainly in English — with a brief exception when he spoke in Hebrew and repeated his call for two mutually-recognized states, Israel and Palestine. He then switched to English and challenged Mahmoud Abbas to say the same thing in Arabic to his people. Clinton may be right that the current PA is the “finest Palestinian government they’ve ever had,” but it’s still too pusillanimous — or too honest — to declare their recognition of the permanent Jewish state of Israel. This is exactly what Netanyahu means by a “free ride” — they don’t want to face the political consequences of recognizing Israel’s right to exist, and so the rest of the world wants Israel to assume huge security risks to let Abbas off the hook. Netanyahu won’t do it, and he shouldn’t.
Besides, there have been exactly two Palestinian Authority leaders, Mahmoud Abbas and Yasser Arafat. Saying that Abbas is the finest leader of the PA is a bit akin to calling Nikita Khrushchev a giant leap forward from Josef Stalin — or more to the point, calling Ali Khamenei the finest leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran in comparison to Ruhollah Khomeini.
Plus, it’s important to catch Clinton’s modifier of that statement, “in the West Bank.” Even if the Palestinians did return to the negotiating table and offer the exact same deal that Arafat rejected — which is unlikely in the extreme — the situation on the ground has changed significantly. The PA no longer controls Gaza, and Hamas continues to rain thousands of rockets down on Israel from that territory. Now the PA has legitimized Hamas in the West Bank again with their deal earlier this year, which means that security arrangements in both territories have to reflect those new threats.
The correct response to Abbas is to tell him to stop talking to the UN and start talking to Netanyahu. Even Arafat managed to engage in direct negotiations.
Update: Jeff Dunetz argues that Netanyahu has offered more concessions than his predecessors, and that Clinton has forgotten quite a bit about Yitzhak Rabin:
Clinton did work directly with Rabin. He forgets though that Rabin was a pragmatic man, who negotiated with (and even shook hands with) a terrorist simply to prevent further bloodshed of innocent Israelis, but he wasn’t willing to negotiate away Israel’s security or her heritage.
Since his death, the myth of Rabin’s peacemaking expanded. While it is true that he was the Prime Minister who began the “Oslo Process, ” it is also true that his final vision for the process was to the right of supposedly “hawkish” Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Rabin did not support the creation of a Palestinian State, while Netanyahu does. Like Bibi, Rabin did not support the division of Jerusalem. Rabin was not the “sacrifice everything for the sake of peace” type that the Labor Party Premiers who came after him. The truth is despite what Bill Clinton Says, Yitzchak Rabin was the last prime minister of Israel that did not support the creation of a Palestinian State.
And Jeff backs that up by noting that nine days before Rabin was assassinated, he gave a Knesset speech in which he called for “an entity which is less than a state” for the Palestinians. Netanyahu has gone farther than Rabin, and has from the beginning of this term.