Published by The Freeman Center

The Maccabean Online

Political Analysis and Commentary
on Israeli and Jewish Affairs

"For Zion's sake I shall not hold my peace, And for Jerusalem's sake I shall not rest."


by Boris Shusteff

On March 28, 2006 Israel will hold perhaps the most fateful elections in her history. They could determine if the Jewish state will emerge from the spell of the fake Oslo peace process or pass the point of no return, continuing along the road of self-destruction.


The current situation does not offer a lot of optimism for the supporters of the nationalist camp. The non-stop polls with which the Israeli press bombards its citizens continue to show a commanding lead for the Kadima party. Kadima is thriving on the sympathy that Israelis feel towards Ariel Sharon as a human being. And it is not by chance that some of Kadimas leaders suggested renaming it Kadima - the party of Ariel Sharon and have tried to put its incapacitated leader under number one on its election list.


Dr. Udi Lebel from the Political Science Department at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, commenting on January 12th on the results of the polls, said that the press manipulates the real results of the polls, giving for example Kadima under Olmert 14 mandates more than it really could receive. The purpose of this manipulation is to influence voters. Lebel said that people have a natural tendency to associate themselves with a winner. Through the doctoring of the polls the press first creates a virtual reality that then transforms into the situation that was originally programmed. It is based on the syndrome of a desire to be on the side of the winner and these polls collect the votes of the undecided.


Lebels revelation makes it abundantly clear that in the remaining two months before the elections the Israeli press will continue promoting the Kadima party, simultaneously denigrating the Likud with Benjamin Netanyahu at its helm. This should have been expected based on the hatred that the press showed towards Bibi during his term as Prime Minister. And although on December 26, 1997 Ari Shavit condemned this repulsive phenomenon in an extremely honest article in Haaretz entitled Why We Hate Him: The Real Reason, it does not appear that in its hatred of Bibi the press has changed even one iota.


However, it is not the medias attitude towards Bibi that should worry those who hope that Netanyahu will succeed for a second time, but the distorted understanding of his political maneuvering during his Prime Ministerial stint, which is perceived even by the majority of his supporters as weak and unimpressive. And while many Israelis agree that Netanyahu was perhaps the best Finance Minister that Israel has had in the last several decades (the impressive growth of Israeli economy under his supervision speaks for itself) he is seen by many as a person who was too susceptible to American pressure while in the prime-ministerial chair.


In reality, though, during his three years as Prime Minister of the Jewish state, Netanyahu succeeded immensely.


First, through a combination of political, economical and military measures he managed to rein in Palestinian Arab terror, which had been escalating under Rabin and Peres, making it almost non-existent. Especially impressive was that he achieved this with the mere threat of the use of force and not by force itself. Second, he managed to drastically slow down the locomotive of death named Oslo that was dragging Israel into the Auschwitz borders, as Abba Eban called the 1949 armistice lines. Third, he re-wrote the rules of the game, changing the Oslo agreement from a one-way street with Israel giving and the Arabs receiving into a two-way street based on a simple reciprocity rule: the Arabs will receive ONLY if they give in return.


Supporters of the nationalist camp cannot forgive Bibi for handing Hebron to the Arabs, and for the fact that he signed the Wye agreement. These are the main reasons why so many right- and center-right-oriented Israeli Jews are hesitant to embrace Bibi for the second time. Therefore, it is of an utmost importance to shatter the myth of Netanyahus betrayal of the nationalist camp. Although both these faults of Netanyahus are interrelated, here we will concentrate mainly on the Hebron Accords story while leaving the Wye Plantation Agreement for a separate discussion.


Let it be clear from the outset that Bibi was not blameless during his Prime-Ministerial tenure. Like every human being he made mistakes and miscalculations. But they had nothing to do with changing or betraying his ideology. In his interview with Frontline Netanyahu clearly explained his understanding of the situation when he came to power. He said,

I knew that it [the Oslo Agreement] was duly signed by the Knesset and at least for a while would bind any future government, including my own, if I were to be elected. ... I looked at [Oslo] before the elections and I said I would honor it under two conditions: one, that Arafat honor it; ... the second was that I would reduce the dangers in Oslo within the agreement -- ... reduce the withdrawals, reduce the price that Israel would have to pay.

The key phrases in his explanation were duly signed and at least for a while would bind. Duly signed meant that Israel could not simply forfeit the whole agreement and start acting unilaterally. And at least for a while clearly hinted at the May 4, 1999 date when the interim five-year Oslo autonomy agreement would expire if no agreement was reached on final status.


The duly signed clause haunted Bibi from the first minutes he became Prime Minister. His predecessor Shimon Peres had left him a time-bomb with a delay fuse. Peres was the one who ratified the agreement, according to which Israel was to turn Hebron over to Arafats administration. However, he twice delayed the process of handing over control of the city, forcing Bibi to deal with this hot potato, hoping that this would create a rift between Netanyahu and his right-wing constituency.


It helps to remember that at that time nearly 70% of Israelis supported Oslo, and the international community strongly believed in good Arafats intentions. Bibi was therefore given an impossible task: somehow to reduce harm done to Israel by Oslo, while simultaneously presenting himself as eager to keep walking along its route. In terms of Hebron, it meant fulfilling the agreement signed by Peres, while trying to get something substantial in return. As Netanyahu put it in the Frontline interview, I was going to carry out [the signed agreement] but with one major idea. He explained,

The idea was essentially to trade the Arab part of Hebron for the rest of Judea and Samaria, or almost the rest of it. And I insisted on receiving in exchange for the Hebron agreement, two documents. One, a document spelling out the ... 10 major commitments that Arafat had to achieve for the remainder of the negotiations about the territory beyond Hebron, which is most of the territory. And second, that we would receive from the Americans a letter that said that Israel and Israel alone would determine the extent of the security location, hence the extent of withdrawal.

When we blame Bibi for abandoning Hebron we keep forgetting that in essence he did not change much of the reality on the ground. He DID NOT GIVE to the Arabs the part of the city INHABITED BY JEWS. He simply withdrew the Israeli army from the Arab-popu! lated part of the city. As he said: In effect, what I was doing was giving up the Arab part of this city and ensuring that we retain nearly all of Judea and Samaria.


The point about nearly all of Judea and Samaria is extremely important. By itself it was the first time from the moment of signing the Oslo agreement that Israel obtained a document clearly spelling out that Israel and only Israel would determine the depth and magnitude of her withdrawals. And this was not an agreement signed with Arafats terrorist organization, but an official letter signed by the American Secretary of State.


Now, there is another misconception about Netanyahu, according to which he easily bends under pressure and cannot withstand American demands. Nothing can be feather from the truth. If his tenure as the Prime Minister proved anything, then it is the fact that he is a very tough negotiator who can withstand a lot of pressure. This became clear in the process of finalizing the Hebron Accord, when the Americans hoped that Israel would simply be satisfied with verbal assurances, as was often the case.


But Netanyahu did not shy away from insisting on his demands. He recalls the story in the PBS interview,

We were supposed to ratify [the agreement] in the cabinet. ... I explained that we were to get this letter from the United States. We didn\'t get the letter; I stopped the cabinet meeting and said, "We are now waiting. We will not conclude this agreement until the American letter reaches us." I think that I sent Danny Naveh to call the American ambassador and tell him that unless this letter came as agreed, we will not ratify the Hebron agreement. When the letter came, it was signed by then-Secretary of State [Warren] Christopher.


As Netanyahu put it this was the way of flipping Oslo around without breaking Oslo All of a sudden Israel had its hands on the wheel and [foot] on the accelerator and on the brakes. It is worth mentioning that the story with the Christophers letter had a continuation. Bibi was not satisfied with just Israel getting this letter. He insisted on the exact same letter being delivered to Arafat. He explained in the interview that he wanted it to be an agreed-upon American position that is communicated and accepted not only by us but also by Arafat. And we waited until we had confirmation that Arafat received exactly the same letter.


This is not the only example of Bibis wrestling with America. One should not forget that during Netanyahus tenure the stalemate in Arab-Israeli negotiations lasted almost 22 months. All of this time American President Bill Clinton with all his might, devotion and dedication to the peace process tried to force Israel to move along the Oslo road. But Netanyahu masterfully dragged his feet, coming closer each day to the May 4, 1999 deadline.


Professor Harvey Sicherman, president of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, and a former aide to three US Secretaries of State, in the article The Camp Wye Accords wrote about the period of Netanyahus battle with Clinton:

There then ensued the showdown that was ... and wasnt as Washington issued the Israeli leader ultimatum after ultimatum, emissary after emissary, rethinking after rethinking, all of which collapsed in mid-May when it became clear that Clinton would not confront Netanyahu on behalf of Arafat. Mrs. Albright thereupon advised the Palestinian leader to contact Netanyahu directly.

Sichermans comment is especially impressive since, as Netanyahu explained in his interview, American policy towards Arafat at that time served to habituate Arafat [to the fact] that there are no rules, there are no limits. Because the only limits were what we would do to him but not what the Americans would do to him. No matter what he did, the Americans always ended up letting him go.


It becomes clear that, although the departure of the Israeli Army from Hebron was a painful blow to the Nationalist camp, under the conditions that existed then, Netanyahu achieved more than he lost. As he said in the PBS interview: For the sake of the larger control, we had in fact given up Hebron, or the Arab part of Hebron, but now we\'re able to ensure that Israel would not be reduced to indefensible boundaries. Actually, this is only partially true, since we will be able to ensure this only if Israeli voters give Netanyahu a second chance to lead the government. 01/16/06 


Boris Shusteff is an engineer. He is also a research associate with the Freeman Center for Strategic Studies.