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יונתן תובל, מטעם יוזמת ז'נבה, ל"הארץ": על הקהילה הבינ"ל לתבוע מחויבות הצדדים לעיקרון שתי המדינות

(19/04/2009)

And what about Israel's commitment?

By Yonatan Touval

For the past three years, the international community, represented by the Mideast Quartet ?(the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations?), has shunned Hamas for failing to accept three principles: namely, commitment to nonviolence, acceptance of previous agreements and obligations, and recognition of Israel. Unfortunately, with the swearing-in of Benjamin Netanyahu's new government, Israel's own commitment to these principles has been cast into doubt.

The most manifest disregard for these principles was displayed by the new foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, who declared upon taking office that the framework agreed to by Israeli and Palestinian leaders at Annapolis in 2007 had "no validity."

Amazingly, Netanyahu's office not only refused to distance itself from Lieberman's statements, but announced it was reconsidering Israel's commitment to the Quartet's "road map" as well.
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These, however, were only the most vocal indications that Israel might renege on its obligations to the international community. No less telling are the government's "founding documents" − its various coalition agreements as well as its basic policy guidelines − which make a mockery of an entire decade of international peacemaking efforts.

Thus, in repudiating Annapolis, Lieberman was only invoking the coalition agreement between the governing Likud party and Labor, which states that, "Israel is committed to all the diplomatic and international agreements that Israeli governments have signed throughout the years."

Sounds good, but since neither Annapolis nor the road map falls under the technical definition of "an agreement" − let alone one that has been signed − this statement actually gives Netanyahu a cover for shirking two of Israel's major responsibilities toward the international community.

Similar doublespeak appears in the government's basic guidelines, which maintain that Israel "will advance the peace process" with all its neighbors. Those attentive to the rhetoric of Mideast diplomacy know that such a formula is more evasive than embracing, since it relegates an Israeli-Palestinian agreement to the abstract notion of regional peace. Of course, this formula is also disingenuous, since no regional peace is possible unless Israel first reaches an agreement with the Palestinians.

In other words, in disclaiming Annapolis and reconsidering the road map, Israel's new government explicitly repudiates one of the three principles the Quartet has demanded that Hamas accept: acceptance of previous agreements and − Israel's use of poetic license shows why this word was included in the Quartet's language − obligations.

And Netanyahu's government fails the two other requirements as well. First, because its founding documents are nothing short of bellicose. Lieberman's "if-you-want-peace-prepare-for-war" warning aside, the coalition agreement between Likud and Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu brings to the fore the fight against terror and the toppling of Hamas' rule in Gaza. It is hard to expect ?(or even demand?) that Hamas renounce violence and sign on to a cease-fire with Israel if the Israeli government's own position prioritizes military confrontation over diplomatic engagement.

Secondly, by refusing to endorse the two-state solution, Israel also fails the test of recognition. Because the corollary of the Quartet's demand that Hamas recognize Israel is that Israel recognize Palestine or, at the very least ?(since Palestine does not yet exist?), that the stated goal of negotiations should be Palestinian statehood. And Netanyahu's government has made it clear it will have none of that.

The formation of the new government presents a terrific irony for an international community that has stuck to its policy toward Hamas, despite mounting evidence that, not only did isolation of that movement cost the Palestinian population dearly, it also did not help to moderate Hamas. Now Israel itself has turned more extreme.

So, what should the Quartet do? Indeed, given the Israeli government's platform, should the international community formally make its three demands of Israel as well?

The answer is no. But precisely for the very same reason that it is time to revisit those requirements as they apply to Hamas. Simply put, they do not work.

Fortunately, Israel's two closest allies within the Quartet have already made clear statements about their expectations from the new government. In unusually frank language, U.S. President Barack Obama has answered the Netanyahu government point-blank, stating in Istanbul last week that Washington would hold Israel to its road map and Annapolis commitments.

No less remarkably, Obama drew a rare symmetry between Israelis and Palestinians when he called on Israelis "to see the perspective of the Palestinians," adding that, "learning to stand in someone else's shoes, to see through their eyes ... is how peace begins."

At the same time, several European leaders have warned Israel that the EU may go as far as to reassess its links with Israel if the latter reneges on its commitment to a two-state solution. In so doing, the U.S. and EU have already identified the two elements that must guide international policy in the months to come.

First, if U.S.-led diplomacy is to have greater credibility in the region, it must be more evenhanded in its approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This is not to say that the intimacy between Washington and Jerusalem should disqualify Washington from acting as an honest broker, but rather that this intimacy should be leveraged to communicate to Israel more effectively the expectations of the international community.

And second, it is high time that the Quartet adopt a more pragmatic attitude toward Hamas and a Palestinian unity government, by recalibrating the focus of its three demands on a strategic commitment to the two-state solution. Doing so would not mean abandoning the three requirements so much as stripping them down to their irreducible core.

It is commitment to this single principle that the international community must demand from both sides, and on whose basis devise an endgame strategy. And this must apply irrespective of the makeup of the government, whether in Israel or the Palestinian Authority.

Yonatan Touval is a senior policy analyst at the Economic Cooperation Foundation and the H.L. Education for Peace, two Israeli NGOs whose shared mission is to advance a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.