Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas meets Israeli delegation in Ramallah, May 17, 2016.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Not quite in the Olympic spirit, there is a two-horse race to the finish line that neither side seems to want to win.
The race that is to reach a lasting, just and comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian peace.
According to the Palestinian newspaper Al-Quds, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas recently turned down a request from US Secretary of State John Kerry that he meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to try and get the “peace process” rolling again.
Abbas, the report said, insisted that Netanyahu freeze all settlement construction and go ahead with a prisoner release that was agreed upon as part of the US brokered talks that collapsed in the spring of 2014, since when there have been no direct talks between the two leaders. Abbas also reportedly said that a direct meeting would circumvent French and Arab proposals – as if they were on the cusp of a breakthrough.
Both sides claim to be willing and ready for peace: Netanyahu has said repeatedly that he is willing to meet Abbas “anytime, anywhere.” Abbas told Israeli journalists back in April that Netanyahu is a partner for peace, and negotiator Gershon Baskin said Abbas had told him that he had made offers to meet with Netanyahu – offers that Netanyahu’s office denies.
Both sides accuse the other of stalling: “When Netanyahu is talking about direct talks, negotiations and meeting the [PA] president he wants to buy more time,” PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah said recently.
There are no peace talks, Netanyahu told the Knesset in July because Abbas “runs away, runs away, runs away, because he knows that he will have to make concessions – concessions on Jaffa, concessions on Acre, concessions on Beersheba. This is the simple truth.”
That running away comment reminded me of a lecture I attended recently by veteran Arab affairs correspondent Ehud Ya’ari – parts of which I quoted on a column on the Islamic State threat to Israel.
Ya’ari, too, says the Palestinians are “running away from statehood.”
They have decided, he explains, that a statelet in the West Bank and east Jerusalem – a mini-state in their eyes – is not something for which they are willing to make the inevitable concessions they would have to make in order reach some sort of compromise with Israel.
For that mini-state, Ya’ari continues, they are not willing to give up right of return for the “refugees,” they are not willing to recognize Jewish heritage in Jerusalem, which the Palestinians, including Abbas, continue to deny. The Palestinian national movement, he says, will not be satisfied with getting a 1967-border state they believe will be locked behind a fence, and if Israel wishes, will be cut off from the benefits of its economy.
“What the Palestinians are saying to us,” says Ya’ari, “is that it’s either runaway statehood – i.e. they get the ’67 borders for free just like they got Gaza in 2005 with the Israeli withdrawal, but if it has to be part of a compromise deal with Israel resolving all outstanding issues, then no way. It’s either runaway statehood or running away from statehood.”
Ya’ari believes that it’s a matter of time before the Palestinians rescind the 1993 letter from PLO head Yasser Arafat to former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin recognizing Israel’s right to exist and that they are seriously deliberating suspending the Oslo accords and “collapsing into Israel’s unwilling arms.”
Such a scenario leaves Israel needing to push an initiative of its own – Ya’ari proposes an interim statehood backed by international security guarantees.
Any such move would require a broad coalition with Labor and as we know, Netanyahu opted instead to bring Avigdor Liberman into his coalition.
The Palestinians may be running, but the Netanyahu government isn’t chasing after them to bring them to the table, neither is it pushing any initiative of its own other than vague talk of a confluence of interests with moderate Sunni Arab countries that creates “historic opportunities.”
In this race, everyone is a loser.