Mutatis mutandis

Oh, the suspense, the drama, the thick air of anticipation, the free-flowing adrenalin. The “peace process” comes to Washington.

February 28, 2014 05:15
4 minute read.

Benyamin Netanyahu faction meeting. (photo credit: KNESSET CHANNEL)


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Oh, the suspense, the drama, the thick air of anticipation, the free-flowing adrenalin. The “peace process” comes to Washington.

In early March, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will come to Washington, meet US President Barack Obama and “further discuss” matters in a “concentrated effort” to “bridge over differences” and probably agree to partially, sort of accept a US-sponsored framework of principles paper with “our reservations noted.”

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OK, it’s not really a drama. Both Netanyahu and Abbas have read the paper 173 times, met with US Secretary of State John Kerry at least a dozen times and have 50 ready-made reservations about the document. In fact, they have been familiar with the paper and drafted their comments, objections and conditions years before it was written. There is nothing, absolutely nothing in that draft that is new to the branch of pseudoscience called “resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

The real credit Kerry deserves is not for relaunching a dormant peace process but, rather, for tolerating the two gentlemen who seem intent on insulting him and making his life miserable, are doing everything they can to make him – and the US – appear weak and powerless and almost gleefully reject whatever ideas he proposes.

Both Netanyahu and Abbas seem to believe that, for obviously different reasons and objectives, they have a vested disincentive to proceed along the lines of Kerry’s peace process. Furthermore, while neither wants to be blamed directly for precipitating the process’s collapse, neither is interested in its continuation.

Netanyahu genuinely does not believe in the attainability or viability of a Palestinian state at this point. He fears it may deteriorate quickly into a failed terror-state. He is looking around at the explosive instability that is the Middle East – Syria, Iran, the demise of the Arab league order, the US gradual disengagement. The ability and willingness to make sound decisions and take risks diminishes. So all Netanyahu – an exceptionally inactive prime minister – wants is nothing more than the predictability of the familiar and comfortable status quo with the Palestinians.

Netanyahu’s position is not without merit or validity. The problem is that he never bothered to come up with an alternative in the event that the two-state model ceases to be feasible, or to deal with the consequences of this status quo.

Abbas knows that if he is dragged into a lengthy but essentially futile process, since he cannot accept less than what Barak offered at Camp David in 2000 or Olmert discussed in 2008, he will never recapture the “internationalization” momentum. His colossal failure is that he perpetuates Palestinian victimhood and hopelessness.

Abbas will find out that even a successful campaign to gain statehood through the UN is nothing more than a PR stunt that is practically insignificant and inconsequential. So you got your state status; see if anyone cares.

In fact, once you have obtained that, you no longer attract the interest of an increasingly fatigued and weary world.

The hold-your-breath-soon-to-be-published John Kerry “framework” or “contours” or “parameters” or merely “a platform of ideas for continued negotiations” will be presented in modern political American- English but will be read in Hebrew and in Arabic in totally different ways. More interestingly, it will be expressed by Israel, the Palestinians and the US in different ways.

This may really be the bottom line: Israel and the Palestinians will accept Kerry’s framework and everyone will declare “success,” yet substantively and effectively no one will have accepted anything.

Of all the languages in the world, one of the most beautiful ones has to be “Diplomatish.”

This is not merely parlance or jargon.

It is a language on its own merits, commonly used and abused by politicians and diplomats to explain and shape the cognitive and real world. It contains wonderful phrases such as: “constructive ambiguity,” “plausible deniability,” “war for peace,” “differences that are unbridgeable but we are willing to make sacrifices, except on vital interests.”

This is what you can expect to hear emanating from Washington in the next week or so: Netanyahu and Abbas will commend and laud Kerry for his tremendous efforts and larger-than-life unrelenting ambition and commitment to peace.

Israel will accept “with reservations” and as “a general framework and platform for further negotiations” (rather than as the contours of an agreement) a “US set of principles that include issues we agree on and key issues that we have yet to agree on.” This is not an endorsement, government bobble- heads will emphasize, but a respectful (to the US) way of continuing to talk.

The Palestinian reaction will be similar.

If I were Kerry, I’d check if Israel and the Palestinians are not working together, through a back channel, on the drafting of a response that elegantly waters down and denigrates all he has worked for.

It will be a case of mutatis mutandis, agreement “with all the necessary changes.”

Only that each will have his own version and copy of mutatis mutandis, and everyone will be where they seem to enjoy most being: square one.

Except for John Kerry who, admirably, is the only one who actually cares about this.

The writer was consul-general in New York and adviser to four foreign ministers. He is currently a fellow at the Israel Policy Forum.

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