Bibi’s red lines are not thought through

Netanyahu’s speech on Sunday night anything more than posturing, or is there, as they say in Israel, real “tachlis” in his approach to the Palestinians?

Many commentators are unsure. The approach, they say, is vintage Bibi: a lot of fancy phrases with not much substance at the bottom.
The problem appears to be that while Mr Netanyahu’s “red lines” — in particular, extremely limited sovereignty for the Palestinians — appear to have played well inside his government, not a lot of thought appears to have been given as to how they translate into action.

Ron Dermer, the PM’s head of communication and policy planning, is a very close adviser and yet on Monday even he did not appear sure, briefing a group of British JNF leaders, as to what the next stages were.

He spoke about the issue of recognition of Israel as a Jewish state being put back on the table. This, he insisted, was “the root of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians”.

If the time came to choose between insisting on such recognition or having a toothless and demilitarised Palestinian mini-state, Mr Dermer was in no doubt: both conditions were vital.
But he made one thing very clear: all the conditions laid down in Mr Netanyahu’s Bar-Ilan speech were “preconditions to an agreement, not preconditions to talks”.

Yet recognition of Israel as a Jewish state was not demanded of either Egypt or Jordan when it came time to sign a peace agreement with them.
And opposition leader Tzipi Livni, in a separate meeting with the JNF group, made it clear that the only precondition that mattered was rejection of the Palestinian “right of return”. There was no mention of accepting Israel as a Jewish state.

Mr Dermer was unable to say what incentive there was for the Palestinians to agree to Mr Netanyahu’s offers, instead maintaining that the impetus would come from the Palestinian street to persuade their leadership that an open window of opportunity was going begging. I am less sure.

He and the prime minister believe that there will be international backing for their approach.

But given that Tony Blair, the famously emollient Middle East envoy, sharply reminded Israel that it had many concessions to make in the interests of peace, I suggest that Mr Netanyahu’s approach will be refined an as opening gambit.

He is ready to deal. Now the question is with whom.

Jenni Frazer is the JC’s assistant editor. She was a guest of the JNF in Israel

    Last updated: 2:18pm, June 18 2009