What does Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu believe about Palestinian statehood? So many contradictory statements have surfaced in recent days that it's tempting to conclude even Netanyahu himself doesn't know. Last Monday, desperate to secure right-wing votes on the eve of national elections, the Israeli prime minister vowed there would never be such a state on his watch; on Thursday, fresh from victory in those polls, he backtracked.
The truth is that Netanyahu has been deeply opposed to a Palestinian state for decades. Take this one striking example going back more than 20 years. Netanyahu had just found out about the 1993 Oslo Accords, the agreement that was an early step toward the creation of a Palestinian state, and he was furious.
So strong was his opposition that he went as far as to compare the peace deal's architects to Neville Chamberlain and the other European leaders who appeased Hitler in the 1930s:
"You are far worse than Chamberlain. You are endangering the security and freedom of your own people," Netanyahu raged at Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in a speech to Parliament. "We will use all legitimate means at the disposal of a democratic opposition to stop this foolish process, which endangers the very future of the country."
He made the source of his opposition to the Oslo peace process clear in a subsequent New York Times op-ed.
"The Israeli Government has struck a deal leading to the creation of a P.L.O. [Palestine Liberation Organization] state on Israel's fragile pre-1967 borders, which most Israelis reject," Netanyahu wrote. "An armed P.L.O. state looming over Israel's cities and overflowing with returning 'refugees' ... is a far cry from a responsible compromise that would give Israel security and Arabs autonomy. Instead of giving peace a chance, it is a guarantee of increased tension, future terrorism and, ultimately, war."
This is the way Netanyahu has talked for decades. He has spent the vast majority of his career vocally and vociferously opposing a Palestinian state, in remarkably consistent terms.
Why Netanyahu opposes a Palestinian state
This has been Netanyahu's position since at least 1978: the Palestinians are inherently hostile to the state of Israel, and giving them a state merely hands them a launching pad for terrorism or even outright war against the Jewish state.
"I do not believe such a state is a historic imperative ... nor do I think Israel can achieve peace only by establishing a Palestinian state," Netanyahu said in 1999. "On the contrary, I am convinced that such a state will endanger Israel and cause war."
He used similar reasoning just last week. "I think that anyone who is going to establish a Palestinian state today and evacuate lands is giving attack grounds to the radical Islam against the state of Israel," Netanyahu said (per the New York Times). "Anyone who ignores this is sticking his head in the sand."
This belief, which has its roots in the Revisionist Zionist intellectual tradition in which Netanyahu was raised, has been a consistent element of his rhetoric on a Palestinian state for decades. There is very little reason to believe he's abandoned it, protestations to the contrary.
That belief isn't the only thing motivating his behavior, though. Some of Netanyahu's actions mirror his deepest-held beliefs, while others have reflected what he thought needed to be done politically.
"Although as prime minister from 1996 to 1999, he ultimately carried out Israel's territorial commitments under the Oslo agreements, he did so with much reluctance and under significant pressure from the Clinton administration," American University's Guy Ziv writes. "He remained steadfastly opposed to a Palestinian state well into the 2000s."
That explains why he has engaged in the US-led peace process while simultaneously taking actions that undermine it, like expanding settlement construction in the West Bank. But it's pretty clear where his real beliefs lie.