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Analysts Discuss Netanyahu’s Speech

June 15, 2009 at 6:40 PM EDT
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Analysts discuss the significance of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's statements accepting a demilitarized Palestinian state.

MARGARET WARNER: And for more on the prime minister’s speech
and what it means for the Obama administration’s hope of reviving
Israel-Palestinian peace talks, we turn to two longtime NewsHour analysts.

David Makovsky, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute
for Near East Policy, he’s the co-author of “Myths, Illusions, and Peace:
Finding a New Direction for America
in the Middle East.”

And Hisham Melhem, Washington bureau chief for Al Arabiya, a Middle East satellite news channel, he’s also a senior
correspondent for the Lebanese newspaper An-Nahar.

So welcome back to you both.

David, beginning with you, now here’s Bibi Netanyahu, just
last month he was here with President Obama, refused to say the magic words
“two-state solution.” Why did he reverse course?

DAVID MAKOVSKY, Washington Institute for Near East Policy:
Well, it’s clear that I think his meeting with the president was a big part of
it, including the president’s speech in Cairo,
as well. And I think he thought by discussing the powers and what the state
would be, I think his term was we’ll deal with the terminology later.

But he saw that that didn’t really go over well in Washington. Also, the
U.S. Congress had changed since he was prime minister in the 1990s, more of a
Republican Congress at that time. And I think he felt that he really has to
articulate it and tell the Israeli public straight out.

And this is a big deal for him, because for his whole professional
life he’s been against the Palestinian state, even though he’s favored
negotiations with the Palestinians and talked about autonomy with them and the

And what’s also fascinating, just from an historic point of
view, is that in 2005, after the Gaza pullout, Ariel Sharon, who was the head
of Likud, left the party and took a lot of people with him who believe the
Likud had to be firmly centrist.

So here was Netanyahu now presiding over a more, let’s say,
ideological Likud, and he has to tell those people, no, there’s going to have
to be a two-state solution. So I think, as the White House said on Air Force
One today, I think this is a big step for him.

MARGARET WARNER: A big deal, a big step, Hisham?

bureau chief, Al Arabiya: In the pantheon of Israeli policies and in the world
of Benjamin Netanyahu, it may be a tiny step. Here he gives a verbal nod to the
prime minister of a two state, and then he goes on to present essentially
impossible preconditions.

He said, Let’s negotiate without preconditions, and then he
set out to put impossible preconditions: Jerusalem,
unified capital of Israel;
no settlement freeze whatsoever; demilitarized state; no army; no control of
air space; no borders.

So essentially he’s undermining all the attributes of
nationhood. This is occupation-lite.

Conditions to negotiation

MARGARET WARNER: But are these preconditions for talking ornegotiating positions?

HISHAM MELHEM: No, I mean, look, obviously you have to watchwhat he does. And I really don't believe that he saw the light and he convertedto the peace camp, so to speak. He's still old Bibi, I think.

And, essentially, you have to see what he will do on thesettlement freeze. And we have to go back to the Mitchell report, essentially.The main observation, the main recommendations, Palestinians will stop allviolence, and the Israelis will stop all settlements, including so-callednatural growth.

MARGARET WARNER: How limiting do you think Netanyahuintended these conditions to be? I mean, his spokesman today said, We aren'tsaying you have to agree to this before we come to the table. Just these areour positions.

DAVID MAKOVSKY: Yes, exactly. I mean, this is the Middle East. I mean, if I would go through all ofPresident Abbas' positions on the refugees and Jerusalem and the like, they're puttingforward the Palestinian position. Netanyahu is putting forward his positions.

The key question is, is he putting preconditions tonegotiate? And that I do not think was there at all.

MARGARET WARNER: Let me ask you about this one, though,about insisting that the Arabs and Palestinians, at least the Palestiniansrecognize Israelas a Jewish state. Now, that sounds like a new emphasis. Is it? And why?

DAVID MAKOVSKY: Look, I think basically, if you ask 100percent of Israelis, 85 percent of them will tell you Israelis accept the ideathat the Palestinians should have a state, but they don't believe that thePalestinians think that the Jews have a legitimate right to be there, recognizeIsrael because Israel is strong, de facto, but don't say that they have alegitimate right.

And the Arab comeback is always, but if we say that, thatimpacts our refugee position. What does it mean for the Israeli Arabs?

You know, we could find this in the English language. Ifpeople would just say, "Historically, you're legitimate, we'relegitimate," that's the core. You came home; they came home. If you canwork that out, the formulation is secondary.

Halting settlement expansion

MARGARET WARNER: All right, let's go back to thesettlements, because that's where -- I mean, President Obama and SecretaryClinton have been very clear. Not only do they not want to see any newsettlements, no expansion, no even natural growth, nothing.

So how -- have you talked to people in the administration?How do they regard this? Is this a thumb in the eye to the Obamaadministration?

HISHAM MELHEM: On a settlement issues, yes. And, look,Barack Obama essentially, he is questioning the very legitimacy of thesettlement activities, the whole concept of building settlements on occupiedterritories.

Essentially he's going back full circle to Jimmy Carter'sadministration, which said essentially settlements, in terms of internationallaw, are illegitimate.

The Israeli government has never heard that before. AndIsraeli governments promised repeated different American administrations, bothRepublicans and Democrats, we will stop settlement activities. We willdismantle so-called unauthorized settlements.

They've never done anything of the sort. And that's why wego back to the Mitchell report, which was written nine years almost, when hesaid essentially all settlement activities should stop, including so-callednatural growth. Today there's no new settlements, but they are breaking groundfor housing units each and every day.

MARGARET WARNER: All right, and explain to people who don'tknow, what does natural growth mean, when he says, "We're going tocontinue natural growth"?

DAVID MAKOVSKY: He's trying to say that those who call for afreeze are freezing life, and meaning that life has to continue.

MARGARET WARNER: But meaning how many more could be built?In other words, is this just -- that you can add a den to your house and have ababy or does it mean your children and grandchildren can all move in fromwherever?

DAVID MAKOVSKY: I think we've got to step back about 10 feetand say, what's the whole opposition to settlements?

MARGARET WARNER: But first explain, what does it actuallymean in Bibi Netanyahu's mind?

DAVID MAKOVSKY: Well, when he says natural growth, it meansthat children can grow up there, the grandchildren grow up there.

MARGARET WARNER: And they can start their own families?

DAVID MAKOVSKY: And they can start their own families, anddon't freeze life.

Outlook for peace talks

MARGARET WARNER: OK, now, let me ask you this, because weonly have a couple of minutes. So where does this leave the Obamaadministration's and President Obama's desire to really revive peace talks?

DAVID MAKOVSKY: I think where it leaves us is very clear. Ofall these four tough issues -- Jerusalem,refugees, security, and land -- ironically, surprise to the viewers, the issuesover the land are the narrowest in terms of differences.

And I think the way to solve the settlement issue -- and wetried -- Dennis Ross and I tried to lay this out in this book we just wrote --is to say focus on what you can do and make the settlement issue moot. And theway to make it moot is to finally demarcate the line after all these years.

Everyone basically knows where the line is. And by doing so,we've solved the settlement problem.

MARGARET WARNER: So you mean you go ahead and divide up theland even before you have a deal on all these other issues...

DAVID MAKOVSKY: Right. In the Middle East...

MARGARET WARNER: ... with the settlers all in the Israeliside and you give the Israelis some other land, I mean, the Palestinians someother land?

DAVID MAKOVSKY: It basically creates something that givesdignity for both, that the Palestinians could say, "We've got 100 percentof the land and you, Israelis, you got 75 percent to 80 percent of the settlersbecause of the way that you can swap certain land," and give each sidehope for the future.

MARGARET WARNER: Would that fly with the Palestinians?

HISHAM MELHEM: It's not going to fly with the Palestinians,because essentially the state that he's describing is not contiguous.Therefore, it's not viable.

I mean, when settlement activities continue, when buildinginfrastructure for the settlements, like bridges and highways and all that,that's undermining Palestinian -- this is Palestinian territory. It's beinggobbled up with each passing day.

MARGARET WARNER: But David's idea is that you knowultimately there will be a land swap. Every peace deal they've talked about hasalmost gotten to that. Can you go ahead and do that even before you haveagreement on all these thorny issues like Jerusalemand refugees?

HISHAM MELHEM: Yes, but why continue settlement activities?If you're asking the Palestinians to stop violence, the Israelis should stopsettlement activities because it is seen as an act of encroachment on the veryland that you're supposed to negotiate over its future.

MARGARET WARNER: And we have to leave it there. DavidMakovsky, Hisham Melhem, thanks, as always.