The Obama administration’s attempt to spur serious Israeli-Palestinian negotiations by hinting it may introduce its own peace plan if the parties don’t begin serious bargaining soon could easily backfire.
The Palestinians can expect an Obama plan to mirror the terms they rejected in 2000 but now say they’re ready to discuss; the Netanyahu government, expecting a proposal resembling the terms previous Israeli governments accepted, is steering a different course, rejecting in advance any plan or efforts to set negotiating targets and deadlines. Jordan’s King Abdullah II was in Washington urging President Barack Obama to produce an American plan, while the Netanyahu government was trying to prevent one.
History books are rife with failed US peace plans, including those offered by presidents Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton.
THE NEWEST version is a trial balloon launched last week in a Washington Post
column by David Ignatius based on interviews with two anonymous senior White House officials believed to be National Security Adviser Jim Jones and a top aide, Dennis Ross.
Jones and others essentially confirmed the story, stoking Israeli fears that the administration may have more in mind than merely presenting bridging proposals to close gaps between the two sides.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters “we’re not going to try to, at this point, impose a particular view on the parties.” Notice the words “impose” and “at this point.”
Making the Netanyahu government even more nervous is the report that two of Jones’s top consultants on this are former national security advisers Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft, both scorned by the pro-Israel establishment.
Netanyahu, who is said to fear that leaks about a US peace plan are part of an administration strategy for regime change in Israel, has been quoted saying an imposed American plan “won’t work and won’t be acceptable.”
And look for him to mobilize his friends in the American Jewish community and the GOP to run interference for him. He knows how wide the gap is, not only between his government and the Palestinians (and Americans) but also between his views and proposals offered earlier by two of his predecessors, Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak, his current defense minister.
Both previous prime ministers put forth far-reaching compromises only to have them rejected by Palestinian leaders Yasser Arafat and then Mahmoud Abbas. Only long after Olmert left office and Netanyahu had taken Olmert’s offer off the table did Abbas have second thoughts. Netanyahu says he prefers starting over at square one, but critics say that is just a ruse to avoid starting at all.
Over the past year, neither side, for its own reasons, has shown convincing interest in negotiating, despite the pious rhetoric. Netanyahu couldn’t get the support of his coalition for the kind of deal Olmert offered in December 2008 even if he wanted to. And Abbas, who has had myriad excuses and conditions for avoiding direct talks, is content to wait for the Americans to deliver Israel.
Better yet, said Abbas’ chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, the US should “go to the Security Council and announce its acceptance of... Palestinian statehood, with Jerusalem as its capital.”
Who needs negotiations when it can be done unilaterally?
Dan Schueftan, director of the National Security Studies Center at the University of Haifa, said, “The Palestinians have no motivation even to contemplate negotiations because they expect the administration to squeeze Israel for them.”
OFFERING ITS own peace plan could be very risky for the Obama administration, especially if it wants peace more than the parties themselves do. “It raises Arab expectations to an unattainable level. The US will be blamed for its failure, and America’s international stature and influence will suffer greatly,” Schueftan said.
Leaking word of a possible US peace proposal now may be a lesson learned from the Reagan administration, which in 1982 blindsided Israel with a plan that had been cleared in advance with Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, prompting a quick and angry rejection from Menachem Begin.
Jones told reporters “we don’t intend to surprise anybody.” Ignatius’
sources said “‘90 percent of the map would look the same’ as what has
been agreed in previous bargaining” – an apparent reference to the Camp
David and Taba talks of 2000 during the waning days of the Clinton
administration, in which Ross played a leading role, and the
Olmert-Abbas negotiations in 2008.
Polls suggest the Israeli and Palestinian people want peace more than
their leaders, who are hobbled by political and ideological
restraints. If Obama does decide to offer a plan of his own – expected
to be patterned after the Clinton parameters of late 2000 – he will
have to go over the heads of the leaders and sell it directly to the
Israeli and Palestinian publics. In person.
But before he packs his bags for that long-overdue trip, Obama has to
convince Abbas and Netanyahu that he is not the Palestinians’ surrogate
negotiator, he has no intention of imposing terms on Israel, and he
expects both to stop making excuses and start making peace.
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