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By Micah Halpern

Wednesday June 10, 2009


Strategy. Tactics. Move and countermove. Sometimes it's called chess, sometimes it's called diplomacy.

Foreign policy and international relations aside, United States President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Bibi Netanyahu are now engaged in a game of chess. And no, the pawns in this game are not the Palestinian people or Palestinian nationhood. The pawn in this game is a relationship forged long ago between two countries with many significant shared values and principles.

Obama and Netanyahu each have their own philosophy of fair play. Right now, they are trying to psyche each other out. And as in any game of chess, sacrifices will be made. In this game, sacrifices are being made in order to gain better position and advantage and at times, even to give an impression of changing style and attitude and strategy.

The game is being played over the idea of a Two State Solution, an idea that Obama is pushing hard and Netanyahu cannot accept.

The Israeli prime minister has repeatedly rejected the term Two State Solution while the American president speaks of it as a sine qua non. So where do they go from here?

The president made an important speech on June 4th in Cairo. The prime minister will be making his own important speech, a counter speech,on Sunday at Bar Ilan University. In his speech, Netanyahu will speak about Palestinian self rule. He will stress the importance of Palestinian self rule. He will speak of the necessity of building an infrastructure for a state. He will say that it is a time to build, not to destroy. He will be playing tactical semantics.

For Netanyahu, Palestinian self rule is synonymous with Two State Solution. Palestinian self rule is a term he can live with, Two State solution is a term he cannot bring home to his ruling coalition.

Netanyahu has a difficult needle to thread. The Israeli leader knows how important the issue of Palestinian nationhood is for the United States and for the president of the United States. He also knows that he is the prime minister of a parliamentary government which is very different from the republic of the United States. And he knows full well that his coalition is in place in large part because he chose to include two parties who will not - under any circumstances, support a Two State Solution. These two parties represent only a sliver of Israeli society, but a very vocal and now important of Israeli society. The overwhelming majority of Israel, 78% of Israel, supports the Two State Solution.

But even that 78% has a caveat. Their support is conditional upon their own security and survival.

So Netanyahu will finesse the term. If he pushes his coalition too hard, he will fall and no longer be prime minister. If he does not pursue the matter he will fall from the good graces of the United States and jeopardize US support for Israel, especially US military support. The Obama Two State Solution plan has already been proposed and drafts have been given to Israel, Egypt and the Palestinians. The Egyptians have invited all Arab foreign ministers to a meeting on June 17th to discuss the plan and to make certain that they are all on board.

Here we have it. Netanyahu will be able to finesse his way through the Two State Solution and the Arab world will back the Two State Solution and the United States will be thrilled with the Two State Solution - so wherein lies the problem?

The biggest problem is that there is no real infrastructure within the Palestinian Authority and without infrastructure there is no way to create a state. The Palestinians do not have their bureaucracies in place not for justice, or police, or education, health or self governance. The Palestinians have not yet erected the building blocks of a state.

The next biggest problem is Hamas. If a Palestinian state were to be declared in the West Bank tomorrow or in two months or two years from tomorrow, there is little doubt that as Gaza went, so will the West Bank go. Within six months Hamas will take over, ousting Fatah in a coup and asserting their role as Muslim extremists and establishing a terror state.

The same 78 % of Israel that supports the idea of a Two State Solution knows full well that until the Palestinian Authority can control Hamas it will be impossible to avoid the Hamas state. And that they reject - and so to does the rest of the Arab world. Neither Arab leaders nor the Arab street want Hamas to take control. The only player unconcerned by the lack of Palestinian infrastructure and the rise of Hamas is the United States. It is a part of the greater game plan that the United States considers to be neither likely nor serious.

Netanyahu will do what it takes to protect his people and pacify his friends. But he will not allow his country to be checkmated.

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4 June 2017 12:13 PM in Columns

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