Netanyahu Had No Choice


I must respectfully disagree with Gary Rosenblatt’s view that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should have called “the Palestinians’ bluff by welcoming the president’s speech as a good starting point for peace talks” (“Bibi Opts For Confrontation,” Between The Lines, May 27).

The trouble with Rosenblatt’s approach is that pre-‘67 borders, with or without land swaps, had never been a “starting point” for Israel in negotiations with the Palestinians. Had Netanyahu done as Rosenblatt suggests, he would have obliterated Israel’s negotiating position going into future negotiations. Whether or not he “called the Palestinians’ bluff” for the present, he would have set a precedent and would be held to having made a major concession for which he would have received nothing in return as a precondition for future negotiations.

Netanyahu had no choice but to respond to President Barack Obama exactly the way he did, with a follow-up conciliatory statement two days later to show that he was by no means breaking with the president — just doing what he needed to do in connection with the negotiations.

I, therefore, strongly disagree with Rosenblatt’s theory that Netanyahu was merely playing to his local political base in rejecting the president’s imposed starting point for negotiations. Unlike Kadima, he was in no rush to give everything away before negotiations even begin. This is especially important in light of the “Arab Spring,” which raises significant security concerns for Israel.

It is essential that Israel be permitted to maintain a military presence in the Jordan Valley. It is essential that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state. And it is essential that they understand that there can be no “right of return” early on in the negotiations. Equally important going into negotiations is Netanyahu’s earlier statement that “Jerusalem is not a settlement.”