These are fundamental questions — questions you’d think Israelis and the watching world would long since have been able to answer, especially given that Netanyahu is Israel’s second-longest serving prime minister ever. In fact, though, while many pundits claim to have definitive answers, most Israelis would acknowledge that they’ve never been entirely sure how Netanyahu sees a potential resolution of the Palestinian conflict, which concessions he’s truly ready to make, what his long-term vision looks like.
But now we know.
The uncertainties were swept aside on Friday afternoon, when the prime minister, for the first time in ages, gave a press conference on Day Four of Operation Protective Edge.
He spoke only in Hebrew, and we are in the middle of a mini-war, so his non-directly war-related remarks didn’t get widely reported. But those remarks should not be overlooked even in the midst of a bitter conflict with Gaza’s Islamist rulers; especially in the midst of a bitter conflict with Gaza’s Islamist rulers. The prime minister spoke his mind as rarely, if ever, before. He set out his worldview with the confidence of a leader who sees vindication in the chaos all around. He answered those fundamental questions.
Netanyahu began his appearance, typically, by reading some prepared remarks. But then, most atypically, he took a series of questions. And while he initially stuck to responses tied to the war against Hamas, its goals, and the terms under which it might be halted, he then moved — unasked — into territory he does not usually chart in public, and certainly not with such candor.
For some, his overall outlook will seem bleak and depressing; for others, savvy and pragmatic. One thing’s for sure: Nobody will ever be able to claim in the future that he didn’t tell us what he really thinks.
He made explicitly clear that he could never, ever, countenance a fully sovereign Palestinian state in the West Bank. He indicated that he sees Israel standing almost alone on the frontlines against vicious Islamic radicalism, while the rest of the as-yet free world does its best not to notice the march of extremism. And he more than intimated that he considers the current American, John Kerry-led diplomatic team to be, let’s be polite, naive.
Perhaps most reporters switched off after he’d delivered his headlines, making plain that “no international pressure will prevent us from acting with all force against a terrorist organization (Hamas) that seeks to destroy us,” and that Operation Protective Edge would go on until guaranteed calm was restored to Israel. If they did, they shouldn’t have.
Netanyahu has stressed often in the past that he doesn’t want Israel to become a binational state — implying that he favors some kind of accommodation with and separation from the Palestinians. But on Friday he made explicit that this could not extend to full Palestinian sovereignty. Why? Because, given the march of Islamic extremism across the Middle East, he said, Israel simply cannot afford to give up control over the territory immediately to its east, including the eastern border — that is, the border between Israel and Jordan, and the West Bank and Jordan.
The priority right now, Netanyahu stressed, was to “take care of Hamas.” But the wider lesson of the current escalation was that Israel had to ensure that “we don’t get another Gaza in Judea and Samaria.” Amid the current conflict, he elaborated, “I think the Israeli people understand now what I always say: that there cannot be a situation, under any agreement, in which we relinquish security control of the territory west of the River Jordan.”
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