Monday, June 8, 2009

Enter Netanyahu. It's About Time!

The time has come.

Next week, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu will deliver a foreign policy speech on how he hopes to achieve peace and security for Israelis. The speech will supposedly reflect consultations with members of his cabinet and certain notables from the general public. It will likely also be heavily based on security measures, because, as Netanyahu says: "My aspiration is to reach a stable peace that rests upon the foundation of security for the State of Israel and its citizens."

One purpose of the speech, according to those who are "in the know," is to prove to the world that Israel or perhaps even more specifically, Netanyahu, is not opposed to peace. On the other hand, there is uncertainty over how Netanyahu will frame the issues. For example, the two states for two people's formula is unlikely to be used. Netanyahu has resisted using it in the past.
The most comprehensive piece on this proposed speech is in the JPost. It raises two important points, the first is the venue of the speech. Netanyahu hopes to speak at the Begin-Sadat Centre at Bar Ilan University in Tel Aviv. The centre, known for its right leaning position on many issues is seen as a significant venue, foretelling Netanyahu's positions. Many are criticizing Netanyahu already for not just giving the speech in the Knesset.

The second interesting point raised in the JPost article is something called the "Andorra plan" for the Palestinians. Andorra, the tiny European country between Spain and France has what is questionable Independence and, because of its geographic position, necessarily relies on Spain and France for just about everything. Andorra has two co-Head's of State, the French President and a Spanish bishop, but its Prime Minister, the head of government is an elected Andorran. It has no army to speak of and relies on Spain and France for defence (ostensibly from one against the other.)

What would an "Andorran Palestine" look like? It would probably be a state with limited independence. The people would be allowed to elect their own representatives, who would probably legislate on matters of day to day life, but the heads of state would likely have final word on important matters of foreign policy. An Andorran Palestine would likely have no army other than a force to keep the peace, and be dependant on neighbours for defense. As well, as with the real Andorra, an Andorran Palestine would have an economy that could sustain it, but may be of limited complexity, lacking, for example, heavy industry and instead focusing on things like agriculture, and tourism.

So, an Andorran Palestine would be a state with some, but not all the trappings of sovereignty and would have some dependence on others for politics, security and its economy. The next question to ask would be, who will this dependence be on? Netanyahu has said repeatedly that he has no interest in governing the Palestinians. If Palestinian freedom to enter into certain treaties with third parties is limited, however, then there is still at least some control by Israel, though maybe not over day to day affairs.

As for security, would Jordan and Egypt play a role in defending a Palestine? Israel would almost certainly want to ensure that the strategic depth of the west bank was not diminished and that if need be, it could deploy its forces in the area to defend against an attack by Iran, for example, should an Iranian expeditionary force begin to arrive in the Levant. Israel does have lukewarm peace with both Jordan and Egypt, but likely questions their abilities or will to help shield Israel if push came to shove.

As for the Andorran Palestinian economy: this is probably where Palestinians will have the most freedom. Netanyahu believes in economic peace, and he will likely push for an arrangement that brings close ties between the Israeli and Palestinian economies, thereby making it foolish and economically dangerous for one to attack the other.

These three issues, economics, security and politics are not novel from Netanyahu. He said exactly these things in his inaugural speech as Prime Minister. What is new, is this concept of an Andorran Palestine. It's a solution that works quite well for Israel, but that the Palestinians will likely not be too pleased with as it comes close to, but falls just short of a fully sovereign state. Or, at least it does as described above. It's not clear what Netanyahu will actually propose.

Whatever Netanyahu proposes, it has to be something more specific. He needs to present his position, a starting point for moving forward. It's likely that many will see his speech as a response to Obama's Cairo speech. To a degree, it may be and the timing suggests it will be so. No doubt the White House will be listening very carefully and analyzing in great detail to see if Israel will adhere to the US vision for the region, or if Obama's admonitions will be rebuffed. Whatever he says, however, will be important because 1) it will be the Prime Minister's words, a man more seasoned and polished than his somewhat abrasive and much criticized foreign minister; and 2) it will reflect a starting point and set the tone for Israeli relations with the US and its neighbours. It will likely be the opening position in a somewhat public negotiation between states and is likely to be subject to change and negotiation in the months to come.

Whatever he says though, it's about time!

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