Washington Watch: Evading peace

Many countries were probably voting with the Palestinians because they’ve become weary of what they see as the endless conflict that no one is really trying to resolve.

By DOUGLAS M. BLOOMFIELD
December 12, 2012 21:55
Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal [file photo]

Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal 370 (R). (photo credit: Reuters / Stringer)

 
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It was an “Aha! moment” for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. When Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal told half a million followers in Gaza on Sunday that “Palestine is ours from the river to the sea” and “Israel has no right in Jerusalem,” and when Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas failed to denounce the speech, which one of his aides called “very positive,” Netanyahu declared: “I told you so.”

That’s all the evidence he needed to show the Palestinians are unwilling to compromise with Israel and are unfit to sit at the peace table with him, he said.

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Was he disappointed? Or happy to let someone else shoulder the blame for what he also wants to do: shelve the peace process? Abbas this weekend also upped the ante for peace talks when he dropped a previous offer of unconditional negotiations once the UN upgraded Palestinian status. Instead, he renewed his demand for a total construction freeze beyond the 1967 lines, including east Jerusalem, and added a new one, resumption of talks on the 2008 Olmert proposal that he initially rejected. He knows both are nonstarters.

Mashaal would like to wipe Israel off the map.

Netanyahu would like to wipe out Hamas and Mashaal. In fact, he tried to eliminate Mashaal in Amman in 1997 during his first term, but his hit men bungled the job, causing a major rift in Israeli-Jordanian relations and helping propel Mashaal into the Hamas leadership. Last month Netanyahu marshaled his troops and threatened to destroy Hamas, but the terror group agreed to stop firing its missiles and the invasion was called off.

Mashaal also got a reprieve when Israel promised to stop assassinating Hamas leaders, at least until they break this cease-fire.

With Mashaal and Abbas, Netanyahu has two allies who fortify his determination to avoid serious peace negotiations. Mashaal is the only one of the three who says what he means. And so long as Abbas is unwilling to denounce Mashaal’s verbal and missile attacks and instead talks of merging with Hamas, the prime minister can tie the two together and think he is off the hook.



NETANYAHU SAYS he is committed to the two-state solution but keeps creating new obstacles with an aggressive settlement construction program, while Abbas, instead of challenging Israel at the peace table keeps coming up with new conditions or running off to the UN and now is talking about the World Court, handing the Israeli leader more excuses to stay put.

Following the UN vote, a petulant Netanyahu halted tax transfers to the Palestinians and announced plans to build thousands of more homes for settlers beyond the 1967 lines.

“We will carry on building in Jerusalem and in all the places that are on the map of Israel’s strategic interests,” he said.

It matters little where the homes would be.

Netanyahu knows in this real estate case it is not location, location, location but symbolism, symbolism, symbolism. And the message to the Palestinians is clear: I hold more cards than you do.

Netanyahu cites Hamas’ boasts of victory last month and its calls to destroy Israel to vindicate his opposition to further territorial withdrawal: “[W]e have again been exposed to the true face of our enemies. They have no intention of compromising with us. They want to destroy our country.”

That plays well with his political base as he goes into the January 22 election. His Likud primary last month moved his party farther to the right as it purged moderates and formed a lopsided coalition of religious, nationalist and security hawks largely opposed the two-state solution.

Netanyahu likes to portray Israel as standing against a hostile world, and he is steadily making that a self-fulfilling prophecy. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, one of Israel’s closest and most important allies, abstained on the UN vote and told Netanyahu personally it was because she didn’t think he was serious about making peace; only the Czech Republic among the Europeans voted with Israel.

Whose fault is that? SOME ON the Israeli Right are blaming President Barack Obama for Israel’s UN defeat, saying either he didn’t really want to win or the United States simply doesn’t have the clout it once did.

They see no fault on the Israeli side, harping back on the old refrain, “the whole world is against us.”

A senior Israeli official told The New York Times, “If European countries would have behaved differently in their vote at the United Nations last week, we may have reacted differently.”

Many countries were probably voting with the Palestinians because they’ve become weary of what they see as the endless conflict that no one is really trying to resolve.

Hamas rejects the very idea of peace with Israel; Abbas and Netanyahu claim to support a negotiated settlement, yet they both seem determined to create conditions that are steadily eroding any hope of a two-state solution – Abbas through incendiary words and new demands, Netanyahu through creating still more facts on the ground.

Both have little credibility left; they like to talk the talk but neither seems willing or even interested in walking the walk.

That is bound to have a corrosive effect on US support for both. For the Palestinians in the short run as some in Congress already are pushing punitive measures in response to the UN bid. For Israel it will be slower but it will come.

And early sign of the chill could come in early next year as Congress and the president make difficult decisions about spending on Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, education and other programs and someone starts asking why are we sending so many billions to the Middle East when we need it so badly here? What are we getting for it? Where’s the peace we’re supposed to be investing in? An even more ominous shift for Israel could come if the Obama administration, reading the refusal by both leaders to take serious steps toward peace, decides to quietly walk away from active peacemaking. That may please Netanyahu and his hard-right base, but in the long term it may prove disastrous for a vulnerable, increasingly isolated Jewish state that is steering recklessly toward a one-state solution that could be its undoing.

2012 Douglas M. Bloomfield www.thejewishweek.com/blogs/douglas_bloomfield

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