Jerusalem Post, January 25 1997
NETANYAHU'S FINAL STATUS STRATEGY
GERALD M. STEINBERG
Despite appearances to the contrary, Mr. Netanyahu has a strategy
in dealing with the Palestinians. This strategy was clearly embodied in
the agreement linking the Hebron withdrawal with the three Israeli
redeployments from Area B. By delaying these pullbacks and limiting their
scope, Netanyahu has given his government more options in the final status
negotiations, including alternatives to a Palestinian state.
While most of the attention was focused on Hebron, the most important issue
has always been final status agreement to be concluded by May 1999.
Under "Oslo 2", Israel withdrew from six cities, and now Hebron, and also
pledged to make three more redeployments to "specified military
locations". While these locations are not specified in this agreement,
Arafat has stated that he expects this to include from 80% to 90% of the
land still under Israeli control. In the Beilin-Mazan plan, although
never officially accepted, over 90% of the territory was to be transferred
to the Palestinian state.
Had such deployments taken place, Israel would have been faced with a fait
accompli. With control over most of the territory, the Palestinians could
have declared an independent state at any time, without Israeli agreement.
Going into the final status negotiations, Netanyahu would have been left
without any cards to play. The Palestinians make it clear that they are
going to demand a state, and if Israel refuses, Arafat would have had
little to lose by acting unilaterally.
Netanyahu has often stated his opposition to a fully sovereign
Palestinian state, for pragmatic rather than ideological reasons. From
the perspective of security, an independent Palestinian state would be a
threat to Israel and a source of instability in the region. Irredentists
would seek more and more of Israeli territory, and forge alliances with
Iraq and other violent groups in the Middle East. Armed with tactical
missiles and other weapons brought through air and sea ports, the
Palestinians could disrupt Israeli
aircraft and tank movements in the event of war and also be a base for
On the other hand, during the negotiations, if Israel continues to
control large areas in the disputed territory (approximately 50% or more,
distributed in a defensible pattern), the Palestinians will have great
difficulty in unilaterally declaring or being recognized as a viable
This means that Arafat will be pressed to seek his objectives within the
negotiations, and to respond to the security requirements of Israel and
the rest of the region.
Beyond a Palestinian state, what are the options for final status?
Some have already been discussed by Mr. Netanyahu and David Bar Ilan.
These include a limited state, (the examples of Andorra and Puerto Rico,
are misleading, as this situation is unique and their may not be any
precedents). Alternatively, there is the possibility of a link to Jordan,
perhaps in the form of a federation. In this way, external security and
defense would be the responsibility of the Jordanian government, in
coordination with Israel, while the Palestinians would enjoy full internal
independence and self-determination.
From the perspectives of regional security and stability, a
Palestinian-Jordanian federation may be preferable to a Palestinian state.
With dreams of full independence, the Palestinians may be reluctant to
accept this option, but if they are given the choice of a freeze in the
process, with Israel still controlling at least 50% of the territory, or
federation, they may be persuaded to accept the latter, or risk losing the
gains they made in the Oslo process. It will also be more difficult for
Arafat and the PLO to revert to terrorism in order to pressure Israel into
This is the importance of the changes in the original agreements,
and not those that pertain to security within Hebron. By delaying the
last and most important stage in this process until mid-1988, Netanyahu
has the next 18 months to test Palestinian intentions. If, during this
time, Arafat insists on a fully sovereign state as the only option, or
threatens to declare a state unilaterally, the Israeli side can maintain
its current deployments.
In addition to gaining leverage with respect to the Palestinians,
the letter that Secretary of State Christopher gave to Prime Minister
Netanyahu also strengthens the Israeli position. In this letter, and in
the remarks of Dennis Ross, the Americans endorsed Israel's right to
decide the nature of the withdrawals in each of the three further
redeployments independently, and they are not subject to further
negotiations. This is a reflection of
the American understanding of Israeli security concerns, but it is not
unlikely that the US government shares the Israeli concerns regarding a
unilateral Palestinian declaration of independence.
Contrary to the "conventional wisdom", the Israeli government's
policies in the Hebron negotiation may have actually saved the peace
process. At the same time, Netanyahu has also created the basis for
stability after the final status negotiations have been completed. While
critics can charge that this took too long, and the price was too high, it
was not without logic or benefit.
Gerald Steinberg is a Senior Research Fellow at the Begin-Sadat Center for
Strategic Studies at Bar Ilan University.