Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu returned from visits with British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarcozy, and claimed victory for his diplomatic mission. He said that both heads of governments had assured him that Hamas must recognize Israel before Palestine becomes a state.
Reports from France and Britain are different. The French are especially clear, and British reports somewhat more nuanced, but both may recognize a Palestinian state if serious negotiations do not begin by September. http://www.jpost.com/International/Article.aspx?id=219338
Will the French and British take account of Mahmoud Abbas' statement that there is no point in negotiating with Netanyahu?
Bibi is an articulate speaker, in English as well as Hebrew. Israeli polls find that many Israelis find him persuasive. Several of my American correspondents have said that criticism of him is dangerous, insofar as he is the most effective spokesman of this beleaguered country.
The view of former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Knesset Opposition Leader may be that of a minority. 'Bibi? I don't believe him'. Too bad for us that Barack Obama, David Cameron, Nicolas Sarcozy, and Angela Merkel are closer to Livni's view than to Bibi's view of himself.
Israel's position moving toward the September meeting of the United Nations General Assembly has some strength along with a prominent weakness. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas indicates that he will not take the advice of Angela Merkel to avoid pressing the case at this time. It looks like a UN majority will recognize a Palestinian state.
The reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah has produced increased support for the Palestinian cause, or at least a "wait and see." Netanyahu's instantaneous rejection may have been one of Bibi's too quick and too simple. The near consensus of Israeli commentators is that Hamas' posture vis a vis Israel will foil any serious collaboration with Fatah, but meantime it is too easy to view Bibi as a rejectionist, especially among those suspicious of his motives and reliability. "Know thyself" has been urged on leaders at least since the time of Socrates. Bibi has not absorbed that lesson.
It might have been better for Netanyahu to assert that Israel would not recognize Palestine, or even begin negotiations with the newly reconciled Authority until its major partners accepted previous Palestinian agreements, including the recognition of Israel's legitimacy. It might also help in the important sectors of the international community to assert that Israel cannot accept the idea of a Palestinian state where Jewish settlers could not remain as residents or citizens. The notion that Arabs cannot remain in Israel if Jews cannot remain in Palestine may have some value, especially if the idea is not expressed by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
Israel's refusal to transfer money to a Palestinian entity involved with a terrorist organization may also have some appeal, even though it has met initial rejection by officials of the United States and the European Union.
A recent poll of East Jerusalem Arabs also weighs on the Israeli side of the scale, and might be directed against that part of the mantra that Palestine must have Jerusalem as its capital. More respondents indicated that they prefer Israeli citizenship than Palestinian. Close to a third declined to answer. In the Arab context, it is likely that many of those were reluctant to reveal doubts about Palestine. http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4064783,00.html
The United States and Germany are not in the camp of Britain and France, i.e., indicating a recognition of a Palestinian state in the absence of serious negotiations. And no important state has threatened concrete actions beyond the formal recognition of Palestine. One doubts that actions like those in Libya are on the agenda. Even a worst case analysis may not bring Palestine any closer to reality than its 1988 Declaration of Statehood, already recognized with one or another kind of reservation by 117 or 130 national governments. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_states_with_limited_recognition
"So what?" and "What else is new?" might be appropriate responses to a UN majority recognizing a Palestinian state.
And "Know thyself" might be directed at the Palestinian as well as the Israeli leadership.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem