Israel’s Netanyahu government, the Annapolis process and a ‘two-state solution’

Published: 5 April 2009
Briefing Number 238

Click to Printclick here to print page

Summary: Israel’s new government, and in particular its foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, have been widely criticised internationally for supposedly opposing peace and opposing a two-state solution with the Palestinians.

This Briefing explains that it is not the new Israeli government which ‘killed’ the Annapolis process, but sustained Palestinian rejectionism. 

And far from rejecting a two-state solution, the Israeli Government, and Mr Lieberman himself, have freshly committed themselves to the Road Map, which is intended to achieve one.

Israel’s new leadership will be tougher than the previous leadership.  They won’t undertake what they see as one-side concessions.  They will be more sympathetic to the Israeli settlers (though they will still confine settlement activity to the so-called ‘settlement blocs’ which comprise around 7% of the territory, and which is where most settlers live).  And they won’t turn a blind eye to Palestinian non-compliance with existing agreements. 

But at the end of the day, they see these as ways to achieve a more durable peace agreement than the approaches of the past: an agreement which will be fair, and which will be enforceable.    

And that includes viable national self-determination for the Palestinian people. 

The New Israeli Government of Benjamin Netanyahu, Spring 2009

On 31 March 2009, the new Israel Government, a coalition led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of the Likud party, was sworn into power. 

Within hours, at a hand-over ceremony at the Israeli Foreign Ministry, the new Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman proclaimed that the Annapolis Accords, entered into as a framework for negotiating a two-state solution and a Palestinian state, were “invalid”. 

Headlines around the world: Israel ‘spurns the peace process’ (CNN); ‘Israel ends concessions’ (the Guardian); ‘Israel is hostile to peace’ (Palestinian spokesman, reported widely) – were typical of the headlines generated around the world by these events. 

Extensive commentary reinforced the idea that Israel had turned its back on peace and national coexistence with the Palestinians.

The purpose of this Briefing is to put these events into context.  There is no question that Israel has experienced a change of direction in its peace-making policy – both in style and in substance.  But that change does not justify the outpouring of essentially one-sided criticism of Israel emanating from around the world.

1. Israel “does not wish to rule over the Palestinians” - Netanyahu 

Firstly, Prime Minister Netanyahu recognises that it is untenable for Israel to maintain day-to-day presence and control of densely populated Palestinian areas.  In his address to the full Israeli Parliament – the Knesset – on 31 March, and stated (Jerusalem Post, 31 March 2009):-

“We will carry out ongoing negotiations for peace with the Palestinians in an attempt to reach a permanent agreement…. We don’t want to rule another people, and the agreement will give the Palestinians the right to rule themselves, except in those areas which endanger Israel…..

Key message:  This is not the statement of a Prime Minister who is spurning the peace process, or rejecting the rights of the Palestinians.  Supporters of Palestinian rights should be ceaselessly quoting this statement, and seeking to ensure that the Israeli government is held to it.

2. It’s not Israel which brought the Annapolis process to an end, but the decisions and attitudes of the Palestinian Authority      

Foreign Minister Lieberman’s statement describing Annapolis as ‘invalid’, on the day he took up his new role, was widely reported as Israel ‘killing’ Annapolis, and rejecting a two-state solution. 

But the truth is, the Annapolis framework had failed long before Lieberman came to power.  In a blunt, undiplomatic way, he has simply stated that fact.

  • The Annapolis declaration was entered into in November 2007 by Israel, the USA and the Palestinian Authority (see Beyond Images Briefing 207).  At the time even the most doveish and optimistic commentators had to admit that there were huge challenges ahead, and that Annapolis might fail (see Beyond Images Briefing 208, for a summary of these views).  Annapolis was never some clear and smooth-running path to a two-state solution.    
  • In the run-up to Annapolis, the entire moderate Palestinian leadership - including Mahmoud Abbas, Ahmed Qurei, Saeb Erekat and Yasser Abed Rabbo – rejected the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish state (see Beyond Images Briefing 226). It would be hard to think of a more stark way of undermining a two-state solution than this.   The fact that Israel went ahead with the negotiations anyway demonstrates the lengths to which Israel was willing to go to try to achieve progress, and please the USA and the international community.    
  • These Palestinian statements rejecting Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish state were greeted by the international media and the diplomatic community in complete silence – a contrast to the international outcry surrounding the statement of Avigdor Lieberman  
  • During the Annapolis process Israel offered to withdraw from 93% of the West Bank, create a corridor between the West Bank and Gaza, expand the size of the Gaza Strip, share jurisdiction over Jerusalem, and thus lead to the creation of a Palestinian state.  This offer was immediately rejected by the Palestinian negotiators (see Beyond Images Briefing 225, where the Israeli offer and the Palestinian response are each described in detail). 
  • This is the moment that Annapolis was ‘killed’.  And it was the Palestinians who killed it.    
  • This Palestinian rejection was also greeted with complete silence by the international media, once more a complete contrast to the outcry surrounding Avigdor Lieberman
  • The Palestinian world continues to be driven by unremitting hostility to Israel and its legitimacy: not just within Hamas, but among Palestinian ‘moderates’ (see Beyond Images Briefing 236). It is this package of attitudes which led to the failure of Annapolis.
  • Avigdor Lieberman has simply acknowledged the past failure of Annapolis, rather than causing it himself.   

3. The new Israeli Government has committed afresh to implement the Road Map for Peace, which leads to a two-state solution    

Lieberman stated that while the Annapolis process was ‘invalid’, Israel would comply with the Road Map for Peace of 2003, and implement its provisions.  The Road Map envisages negotiation leading to a two-state solution, with concessions made on a reciprocal basis by the Israelis and the Palestinians, and it states:-

“A two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will only be achieved through an end to violence and terrorism, when the Palestinian people have a leadership acting decisively against terror and are willing and able to build a practising democracy based on tolerance and liberty, and through Israel’s readiness to do what is necessary for a democratic Palestinian state to be established….”

The first part obliges the Palestinians to curb terrorism and incitement, and to build institutions capable of managing democratic statehood.  The second part obliges Israel to carry out territorial withdrawals and end new settlement activity.  

Many critics accuse Israel of flouting the Road Map.  Israel replies that it’s the Palestinians who have not taken the steps necessary to move the Road Map forward.  Whatever the rights and wrongs, Avigdor Lieberman’s statement places the Road Map centre-stage again; and commits Israel to a path of concrete negotiation which is intended to lead to a two-state solution.

As Lieberman himself stated in February: “I advocate the creation of a viable Palestinian state….”

(reported in the Jerusalem Post, 27 February 2009, quoting an interview with him in the New York Jewish Week).
Key messages:

  • The Annapolis framework was intended to move the parties towards a two-state solution, but Palestinian rejectionism destroyed that framework, months before Avigdor Lieberman came to power
  • Instead of denying that Israel is serious in its desire for peace, campaigners for a two-state solution should hold the Israeli Government to its pledge to undertake negotiations under the Road Map framework which are designed to achieve one    
  • Israel has committed itself afresh to a diplomatic process which aims to achieve a two-state solution. It is the mechanism for doing so which will be different, and the style and approach of its leaders, but not the ultimate goal 

Commentators are yet again seeking to portray the Palestinians as passive victims of Israel, rather than sharing responsibility for how events unfold