When Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu meets Palestinian Authority Prime
Minister Salam Fayyad on Tuesday for the first time ever, diplomatic theater –
rather than true diplomacy – will be on display.
True diplomacy would be
if PA President Mahmoud Abbas would meet Netanyahu himself and give him a letter
stating the Palestinian negotiating positions.
Israel could then respond
a week later with Netanyahu going to Abbas and presenting him with a letter
spelling out Israel’s positions. Those two letters could then form the starting
positions from which the two sides would start, and the goal of the negotiations
would be to narrow the gaps – such is diplomacy.
however, is when one side presents a letter laying out preconditions that the
other side has rejected a thousand times in the past, knowing full well that
they will reject them again this time as well. That is not diplomacy, but rather
diplomacy as show.
The various drafts that have emerged of Abbas’s much
discussed letter to Netanyahu indicated that the document – whether worded
antagonistically or toned down a bit – will be little more than an
The Palestinians will lay down their narrative, and then say
that they will enter negotiations only if Israel stops all settlement
construction, accepts the pre-1967 lines as the baseline of talks, and frees Palestinian prisoners jailed before the signing of the Oslo
If Israel does not accept those conditions, the letter is
expected to say, then – depending on which draft of the letter will be the one
ultimately handed over – the PA will go back to the UN seeking unilateral
statehood recognition, or throw all responsibilities in the West Bank back on
Israel, or dissolve itself. This does not represent the opening position
of negotiations, but rather an either/or proposition. Either accept the terms –
terms the Palestinians have set out for months and which Israel has rejected –
or drastic steps will be taken.
The question that arises, however, is why
go through the motion of presenting a letter. If the Palestinians are
essentially going to say the same thing in their letter that they have said for
the last three years in avoiding negotiations with Netanyahu, then why bother
with the whole letter business in the first place?
The answer is simple:
Since the PA’s gambit for unilateral statehood
recognition failed at the UN in September, two things have happened: the
Palestinians have fallen off the world’s radar screen, replaced by Syria and
Iran; and they have been under pressure to enter negotiations. The pressure has
not only come from the US, but also from the EU and the Quartet.
the Quartet just last week called for a return to negotiations.
Palestinians need to do is both get back on the world’s agenda and demonstrate
to the international community that they really do want to negotiate, but that
it is Israel and its settlement construction that is holding up the
process. With the Fayyad meeting the Palestinians hope to both regain
some of the world’s lost attention and also say, “Look, we went that extra step,
we were even willing to meet Netanyahu and deliver him a letter, but he still
refuses to negotiate.”
Blame him, not us is the theme the Palestinians
hope the world will take away from Tuesday’s letter-giving exercise. The letter
is a prop in this show.
Only fools, however, underestimate the importance
of props. And Netanyahu, who routinely uses all kinds of props during his
speeches to grab and keep attention, is no fool.
This is a prime minister
who understands props. For instance at a press conference earlier this month to
mark three years of his government, he drew a tree to grab attention – a prop.
At his AIPAC speech in Washington last month he waved an exchange of letters
from the World Jewish Congress to the US War Department during the Holocaust – a
prop. And at the UN in 2010 he unfurled the original blueprints of Auschwitz to
blast the UN for having invited Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak –
Netanyahu does not intend to be out-propped by the PA, and
has already made clear that within days of receiving Abbas’s letter, he will
write one himself to the Palestinian leader. He will not leave the Palestinian
letter unanswered; he will not leave that field of play wide open for the
But after the dust has cleared from both missives, the
sides at the end of the month will probably be pretty much at the same place
that they are today: stalemated, with Abbas again waiting either for Netanyahu
to fall (unlikely), or for US President Barack Obama to feel sufficiently
empowered if he wins the elections in November to force Israel’s hand. In the
meantime, Abbas will likely again try his hand at the UN and in various
international forums, because even if the script is well worn and tired, somehow
the diplomatic show must go on.