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Jewish World ReviewMay 5, 1999 /19 Iyar 5759

Jonathan Tobin

Jonathan Tobin
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Perilous Diplomacy: Palestinians Want To Go Back To 1947

(JWR) ---- (
THOUGH THERE ARE SERIOUS economic and social issues that Israel's leaders need to debate, once again the focus of the upcoming elections seems to be the peace process.

With voting for prime minister as well as the Knesset less than some two weeks away, the gloves are starting to come off in the battle to lead the next government of the Jewish state. And not only the gloves of the candidates.

The Clinton administration has done little to conceal its disdain for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud Party-led coalition. This antipathy dates back to the last election in which President Clinton did everything short of canvassing Israeli voters personally in a vain attempt to secure the victory of Shimon Peres. Though he has made more concessions than anyone could have predicted, Netanyahu has still infuriated the American foreign-policy establishment (as well as the Israeli left and many of his own allies) throughout his three years in office.

Wisely, this time around, Clinton has chosen to downplay Washington's ardent desire that either Labor Party leader Ehud Barak or the Center Party's Yitzhak Mordechai defeat Netanyahu. Nevertheless, the administration has practiced a form of "snub diplomacy," in which opposition leaders are given the red-carpet treatment and Netanyahu the cold shoulder. The State Department has also been at pains to point out any divergence between Israel's current positions and those of the United States.

In particular, the Americans have been blasting Israel over expansion of Israeli settlements in the territories. Israel has the legal right to build them and is not obligated to refrain from doing so under the Oslo accords any more than Palestinians are required to stop building (which they have not). We only wish the State Department, which monitors the building of Jewish homes outside the Green Line with satellite photography, were half as vigilant when it comes to blatant Palestinian violations of the accords.

The irony is that differences between the major Israeli parties on the peace process are probably smaller than ever. With Netanyahu linked to the Oslo process, all three of the leading candidates can be expected to continue negotiating with the Palestinians and make concessions to achieve an agreement of some sort. Looking past the expected runoff for prime minister on June 1, whoever wins will be facing serious problems.

The fuss over a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood notwithstanding, it is a given that the Palestinians will achieve statehood. That was foreordained by Oslo. The question is, what kind of Palestinian state and how much of a danger will it pose to Israel?

With issues such as Jerusalem, settlements and refugees remaining to be resolved under the final-status portion of Oslo, neither Netanyahu, Barak or Mordechai will have much room to maneuver. All three oppose a divided Jerusalem. All three will push to include most - if not all - Jewish settlements inside Israel's borders.

Though Netanyahu is widely - and unfairly - blamed for the stalling of the peace process, the real story is that the Palestinians themselves may have decided that little more is to be won for their cause under the banner of Oslo.

In a little-noticed maneuver, the Palestinians have been campaigning successfully for the final status to be negotiated on the terms of the 1947 United Nations Resolution 181, in which the Mandate of Palestine was to be divided between a Jewish state, an Arab state and an international zone in Jerusalem.

The 1947 partition agreement was rejected by the Arabs of that time - who were uninterested in a Palestinian state and only wished to destroy the new Jewish homeland - and is a dead issue today. But no one should ignore the damage a Palestinian diplomatic offensive that has the full support of Europe can do. And that goes especially for those who confidently predict that as long as someone other than Netanyahu is running Israel, peace will be at hand. The revival of 181 is a serious threat.

The next prime minister - whatever his name is - will need the full support of American Jewry to protect Jerusalem and Israel's security interests.

But after the barrage of Palestinian propaganda, Clintonite Bibi-bashing, and American Jewish backpedaling on backing Israel under its current leadership, that we have witnessed in recent years, you have to wonder whether it will happen

JWR contributor Jonathan S. Tobin is executive editor of the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent. Let him know what you think by clicking here.


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©1999, Jonathan Tobin