|Prime Minister Netanyahu and PA President Abbas 311 (R).(Photo by: Jason Reed / Reuters)|
Abbas and Netanyahu in Wonderland
By CHARLES FREILICH
Israel faces dire, historic decisions in the coming year. With his electoral victory virtually assured it is time for the premier to get his strategic priorities right. This is true for Abbas and the Palestinians as well, but then, they always prefer to live in Wonderland.
The Middle East has always marched to its own drumbeat, lived in its own special
reality, but Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister
Binyamin Netanyahu are taking matters to a new level.
for whom national unity has always been a foremost priority, given their
geographic separation and consequent fear that this could become an even deeper
national fissure, are hopelessly divided between the fanatical “Hamastan” in
Gaza and the feckless Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. No elections have
been held for seven years and the prospects for true reconciliation are as
distant as ever, probably more so, even if Hamas’ great “victory” during
Operation Pillar of Defense may lead to a fleeting papering over of
Egypt and Jordan, the twin Arab pillars of the peace process
and forces of Arab moderation, the PA’s primary sources of support, are in deep
The entire Arab world is coming apart, the century old map of
the Middle East possibly crumbling before our very eyes, further decreasing the
Arabs’ ability to actually support the Palestinian cause. Sixty-four
dysfunctional years later, the Palestinians are as far from a state as
So what does Abbas do? Renew negotiations, after refusing to do so
for three years, or moderate positions in a way that might facilitate agreement?
No. He once again manifests the long-standing Palestinian preference for
showmanship over substance, achieving a dramatic feel-good PR victory in the UN,
which will bring the Palestinians not one inch closer to actual statehood. So
what else is new. The Palestinians have always preferred the afterglow of
diplomatic grandiloquence and international approbation, a fantasy state in
their minds, over the difficult compromises required by negotiations – the only
way they will ever achieve statehood. It is so much easier to revel in the
support of the General Assembly than to muster the political courage and
wherewithal needed for a negotiated settlement.
And Netanyahu, who
deserves considerable credit for having successfully galvanized world attention
on Iran during the past year, for conducting Operation Pillar of Defense in a
way that not only realized Israel’s primary goals, but also enjoyed surprising
international support, and who succeeded in deflecting attention from a peace
process that was unfortunately not going anywhere in any event, has now
refocused attention on the Palestinian issue.
Pillar of Defense may have
been a necessary short-term diversion from Iran, but did Israel have to respond
to the UN decision by reviving long moribund settlement plans in Ma’ale Adumim
and Jerusalem, that it will probably not implement any way and whose sole
practical import is to infuriate the entire world, including the US and Europe?
Were there no other options, or have we too become more interested in form than
substance? Do we truly wish to cut off funding to the PA and undermine the
security cooperation which has significantly contributed to the near total
absence of terrorism from the West Bank in recent years? The premier has
frivolously squandered vital interests.
ISRAEL IS in the midst of what
Americans call the “silly season,” the period prior to elections, when politics
run rampant. Pandering to one’s constituency prior to elections is an old
established democratic practice, but the entire Middle East is in flames and
undergoing a fundamental transformation that is likely to lead to a dramatic
deterioration in Israel’s strategic fortunes.
What began as a hopeful Arab
Spring is rapidly evolving into an Islamist nightmare and we are in danger of
being surrounded by radical failed states and all sides. Egypt and Syria
are already tottering, Jordan may be too.
The danger of Syrian use of
chemical weapons has grown and along with it the horrifying specter that they
will fall into the hands of Hezbollah and other terrorist organizations. 2013
was supposed to be the critical year on Iran, not a period in which Israel
would, through its own actions, refocus world attention on the Palestinians. The
peace process was unlikely to have gone anywhere in any event, due to
Palestinian obstinacy, but Netanyahu’s demonstrative actions convince the world
that the blame is almost entirely ours.
Strategic wisdom would indicate
that we should be doing everything possible to minimize all distractions and
secondary issues, enable the world to focus on the supreme issue, Iran, and now
Syrian WMD too.
Israel faces dire, historic decisions in the coming year.
With his electoral victory virtually assured – and even if this were not the
case – it is time for the premier to get his strategic priorities right. This is
true for Abbas and the Palestinians as well, but then, they always prefer to
live in Wonderland.
The writer is a Senior Fellow at the Belfer Center,
Harvard Kennedy School and teaches political science. He is the author of
Zion’s Dilemmas: How Israel Makes National Security Policy.He is a former deputy national security adviser of Israel.