Give Bibi a break: time for the international community to stop pre-judging Netanyahu's motives
Whatever they may think of Netanyahu personally, the international community needs to stop pre-judging Bibi’s motives. It is stifling progress and pre-determining peace talks
Shortly before he was assassinated, Yitzhak Rabin declared in a speech to the Israeli Parliament that the Jordan Valley - the strip of land in the West Bank that runs along the border with Jordan - was the security underbelly of the state of Israel.
Maintaining control of this area of land would have significantly reduced the size of any future, already petite Palestinian state. But the Prince of Peace had declared that the area would remain under Israeli rule in any future peace deal with the Palestinians.
Fast-forward fifteen years to the leadership of Israel’s current prime minister and the policy has changed. Unlike his colleague and left wing political rival, Netanyahu has agreed a more flexible approach to the contentious Jordan valley. It is now a part of peace negotiations and likely would see only a minimal Israeli military presence, just alongside the Jordanian border.
Rabin’s credentials as a war hero and one of the finest leaders of the state of Israel are universal. He is remembered fondly by most international leaders. Conversely PM Netanyahu is disliked and mistrusted. The international community cannot, it seems, abide him.
This has resulted in a peculiar approach to policy in which the Palestinian leadership is bolstered and pandered to, whilst the Israeli Government is continually pushed into a corner that becomes more and more difficult to retreat out of.
Netanyahu’s peace credentials do not stop at agreeing to put the Jordan Valley on the table. Since the formative Bar Illan Speech in which the Likud PM welcomed and repeated calls for a two state solution, ‘Bibi’ has continuously and compellingly urged the Palestinians to return to direct negotiations with Israel, offering to meet them anytime, anywhere.
The self-imposed 10 month freeze on West Bank settlement construction - an olive branch to the Palestinians - was the most extensive and public declaration on restraining settlements ever made by an Israeli prime minister or government. It was made in spite of the difficult political circumstances that arise out of Israeli coalition politics.
In practical terms, under Netanyahu’s watch, more has been done to improve living standards in the West Bank than under any other Israeli leader. Movement restrictions have been dramatically eased and major security checkpoints and road-blocks have been removed.
Israel works closely with the PA to enhance the capabilities and effectiveness of security forces in the West Bank. They train more than 3,000 Palestinian security personnel at a Jordanian training base.
Business activity is burgeoning and housing developments in the West Bank are flourishing. Even the IMF has acknowledged the improvements, forecasting growth of seven percent across the Palestinian Territories in 2011, rising to 10 percent in 2013-2014.
Netanyahu has achieved all this in the face of a Palestinian leadership that refuses to negotiate with him.
Last September at the UN General Assembly, amidst the launch of the Palestinian bid for full membership of the United Nations, Netanyahu stood before the hostile audience and extended the hand of peace to the Palestinians. He urged them to negotiate for peace. “We have to stop negotiating about the negotiations. Let's just get on with it. Let's negotiate peace.”
Whatever they may think of Netanyahu personally, the international community needs to stop pre-judging Bibi’s motives. They do this in a way they never did for the likes of Rabin and other predecessors. It is stifling progress and pre-determining peace talks. It is ultimately unhelpful and is in the interests of neither Palestinians nor Israelis.
Nathalie Tamam is the Political Director of Conservative Friends of Israel and writes in a personal capacity. Views reflected in this piece are the author's only.
We are wholly dependent on the kindness of our readers for our continued work. We thank you in advance for any support you can offer.