netanyahu abbas shake hands 248 88.
(photo credit: )
No sooner had Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the resumption of
Mideast peace talks “without preconditions” than the Palestinians threatened to
walk out, nearly two weeks before they were even scheduled to begin, unless
their conditions were met.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas,
who constantly kvetched that everyone in the world, particularly his Arab
brethren, was pressuring him to sit down with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu,
demanded all Jewish construction in territories he wants for a Palestinian state
be frozen before he’d talk.
That was shot down Monday by the State
Department, which told him to take it up personally with Netanyahu.
for Netanyahu to extend the freeze, but not without some of his own moaning and
The 10-month moratorium he announced last year expires
September 26, and Netanyahu has complained that he is under intense pressure to
It’s not as tough as he’d have us believe. He can
win the political backing he needs by pointing to the success of his freeze in
repairing relations with Washington, achieving better coordination on Iran
policy, improving Israel’s international image and getting direct talks started.
He is politically popular at home, has no viable political opposition from
either direction, and if far right members of his coalition decide to quit, he
can replace them with centrists willing to give peace a chance.
lost on his insistence that talks resume where they left off the last time he
walked out, in December 2008, but he did win on his demand that all final status
issues be on the table and that there be a time frame for completion. But his
most important achievement went virtually unnoticed. US peace envoy George
Mitchell opened the door to an American peace plan when he announced Washington
will be an “active and sustained partner” free to offer “bridging proposals” to
break any impasse, not only when asked but when “we deem necessary and
ABBAS, UNLIKE Netanyahu, encourages more active US
involvement, confident Washington’s positions on many issues – most notably
settlements – are closer to his own, but the Palestinians’ Achilles heel has
been their stubborn and unrealistic confidence that others would force their
terms on Israel, saving them from serious bargaining.
has repeatedly denied it would offer an American plan, much less try to impose
it, a move that would be politically very risky.
This is an American
show, announced by the secretary of state and to be launched with a White House
dinner. The international Quartet which is supposed to oversee the peace process
will be represented only by Tony Blair, and the Arab League by Jordanian King
Abdullah II and, health permitting, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, in a
The one-year time frame is not a deadline, as
Palestinians would have preferred, and if the talks are going well a year from
now, they will likely be extended.
Some unnamed Palestinian officials
have hinted that if they’re unsatisfied with progress in the talks, Abbas might
go to the UN to seek recognition for statehood, bypassing negotiations. Look for
Washington to block that move as dangerously provocative.
appears to be keeping a low profile for a president who has made this a
centerpiece of his foreign policy. He let his secretary of state make the
announcement, and he is only hosting a private dinner the evening before talks
begin. But should they fail, as most people expect, the blame will be
Now that he has Palestinian and Israeli leaders meeting
face-to-face, Obama needs his own face time with their constituents. That means
going to Israel and to Palestine to sell skeptical publics, especially in
Israel, on his vision for peace and reliability as a friend. That long-overdue
trip is critical to winning needed support.
Don’t rush out to reserve
your place for the peace treaty signing ceremony. It is hard to find much
optimism for a peace process that neither Abbas nor Netanyahu seems to want or
be prepared for.
Israeli analyst Yossi Alpher has said neither man is
“ideologically inclined or politically positioned to resolve all the
For now, Netanyahu is winning the PR game,
welcoming the talks, sounding optimistic and vowing to “surprise the critics and
skeptics” with his readiness to make peace, while a weak and pessimistic Abbas
is writing the obituary before the negotiations take their first breath.
Mitchell insists both leaders are serious and sincere and believe peace can be
But it will take a lot more than rhetoric and testimonials.
Both sides have an American president who wants to see the process succeed;
their own constituents, who are enjoying economic prosperity and political
stability, are telling pollsters they are ready for a two-state solution, and
they don’t want to see another intifada.
But are their leaders ready? Can
they afford to raise expectations only to see them crash and burn – literally –
once again? firstname.lastname@example.org