Monday, 4 March 2013

Ambassador Oren Tells AIPAC Likud Supports Two States

Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren, speaking at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) annual conference, stated that Prime Minister Netanyahu—leader of the Likud party—has always been willing to stick his neck out for a two-state solution:

Prime Minister Netanyahu has taken consistent risks for peace. In 2009, when he got up at Bar Ilan University and made the two-state solution the official position of the Likud party, that was a risk. When he froze settlement growth for 10 months, that was a risk. When he got up and said in front of U.S. Congress that he understood that there’d be settlements beyond Israel’s borders in the event of the creation of a Palestinian state, that was a risk.
In reality, though, none of these things have been terribly risky, because Netanyahu’s Likud party has shown through its follow-up that it’s never really taken the two-state solution seriously. In fact, as Lara Friedman detailed in a Peace Now report, “by every objective measure, the Netanyahu government has demonstrated that it is determined to use settlements to destroy the very possibility of the two-state solution.” That’s true of the Likud of the past—consider the fact that, during Netanyahu’s 10-month settlement “freeze,” construction never actually stopped, and was redoubled right after the freeze expired—and it’s even more true of Likud today. So much so, that the two-state solution can’t be considered the position of the Likud party in any meaningful way, despite what Oren would have AIPAC believe.

First, the current Likud party is strikingly pro-annexationist; a quick look at its list shows that its members roundly support annexing large parts of the West Bank—parts that would otherwise be earmarked for a Palestinian state. Second, you won’t find anything about the two-state solution in the party’s platform, because the Likud (together with Yisrael Beytenu) actually refrained from creating a formal platform this election cycle. Third, senior Likud MKs proved to what extent this formal omission really matters when they publicly stated that their party does not support a two-state solution, despite Netanyahu’s 2009 Bar Ilan speech. As the Times of Israel reported:

Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar, who is No. 3 on the Likud-Beytenu joint list, said “two states for two peoples was never part of [Likud's] election platform.” MK Tzipi Hotovely, No. 15 on the list, said the Bar-Ilan speech was a tactical maneuver by Netanyahu only meant to placate the world.

Not only do Likud MKs not perceive their own party to be in support of a two-state solution—their party leader, Netanyahu, apparently doesn’t think that’s a problem. He failed to reprimand the MKs in question, implicitly suggesting that in the Likud, support for two states is optional at best.

Netanyahu’s recent decision to appoint Tzipi Livni head of negotiations with the Palestinians may suggest to some that he and his party are in fact serious about forging a peace agreement. But, if you think about it, it actually says something pretty sad about the Likud party that Netanyahu had to search outside of it for someone who’d be up to the task. In effect, what he did was outsource the job of caring about the Palestinians to a non-Likudnik.

Taken together, the facts that Oren conveniently glosses over suggest that the two-state solution is neither the Likud’s official position, nor is it the unofficial narrative that party members have about themselves. Oren can talk all he wants about how committed Netanyahu has always been to a two-state solution, and how committed today’s Likud party still is. Someone in the AIPAC audience might even believe him. But I doubt a single Palestinian will.

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