Abbas addresses Palestinian independence day_311.
(photo credit: Reuters
The headline in The Jerusalem Post read, “Israel upset by PA’s refusal to renew
Count me among the skeptics. I’m not convinced the Netanyahu
government is at all disappointed that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud
Abbas isn’t ready to return to the peace table.
Both sides are devoting
their energies to finding excuses – not opportunities – not to talk. The
Palestinians are demanding a total construction freeze beyond the 1967 lines,
and Israel keeps announcing more new building, as each side tries to convince
the rest of the world that the other guy is the real obstacle to
Until now US President Barack Obama seemed interested in pushing
the unwilling leaders toward the table, but he seems to have given up on both of
them. With the election season heating up and Republicans accusing him of being
anti-Israel, Obama has no desire to get into a confrontation with pro-Israel
voters and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu over a peace process that is going
More evidence came last week when Obama’s chief Middle East
advisor and negotiator, Dennis Ross, announced his resignation. I have no reason
to doubt Ross’s stated reason – to spend more time with family – but it’s fair
to assume that if serious peace negotiations were underway or even imminent he
wouldn’t be quitting.
The international Quartet – US, EU, UN and Russia –
was in the Middle East this week ostensibly to revive negotiations.
overly optimistic State Department spokesman called the group’s meetings with
Israeli and Palestinian negotiators “constructive” and said the Quartet hopes to
“entice” the parties to return to direct negotiations.
CONDITIONS FOR resuscitation have never been so bleak, and the
only chance for real progress may be the election of new Israeli and Palestinian
leaders who want to do more to make peace than just talk about it.
Palestinians repeated their demand that Israel must halt all construction in
territory beyond the 1967 lines, including east Jerusalem, and accept that line
as the basis for negotiations of a two-state solution. Israel insists on no
pre-conditions, which is also the Quartet’s position.
The Quartet urged
both parties to “refrain from provocative actions,” a statement really aimed at
discouraging Israeli announcements of new settlement construction. And
that’s about the extent of Quartet consensus. Beyond that the members
can’t find common ground on core issues like borders, refugees, Jerusalem and
Israel as a Jewish state.
“Whatever the Quartet says or does, it appears
to have lost all credibility in both Israel and Palestine,” said Yossi Alpher,
an Israeli analyst.
“The incompatibility of [the Netanyahu] government
with a genuine peace process should have been obvious from the outset, more than
two-and-a-half years ago,” he added.
Former US Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice wrote in her new memoir, No Higher Honor
, that then-prime
minister Ehud Olmert made “remarkable” concessions in a dramatic offer for a
comprehensive agreement in 2008 but Abbas rejected it, refusing even to make a
Abbas, further eroding his own credibility, has lately
been saying he is ready to discuss Olmert’s offer with Netanyahu, who opposed it
at the time and still does. He’s also ready to consider the 1947 UN
Partition Plan to divide the British Mandate into two states, one for the Jews
and one for the Palestinians. “It was our mistake” to turn it down, he told an
Israeli television interviewer.
One reporter likened efforts to revive
the peace talks to flogging a dead horse.
Abbas just suffered a major
defeat when the UN Security Council refused to take up his application for
recognition and membership. He failed to get at least nine of the 15 votes to
force his application to a vote and give him at least a moral victory that would
isolate the US by forcing it to use its veto on behalf of Israel. The
administration called in a lot of chits to win this one, but don’t expect much
gratitude from Netanyahu or his supporters.
Abbas is blaming Obama for
the failure of his own mistaken UN strategy, which he touted as an effort to
revive peace talks. And he accused Netanyahu of forcing him to bypass direct
talks and going to the UN by refusing his conditions for direct
Neither Netanyahu nor Abbas has made a convincing case that he
really is ready to make peace and go to his people and sell them on the painful
concessions an agreement will inevitably require.
If Abbas were honest
about wanting peace, all he need do is call Netanyahu’s bluff. Don’t hide behind
demands for a settlement freeze; settlements weren’t a hindrance to at least
starting past negotiations when Palestinians, including Abbas himself, wanted to
He may be right about Netanyahu bluffing, but he won’t find out
until the Israeli leader is called out. Abbas can announce he’s ready to
negotiate a two-state solution based on the prime minister’s Bar-Ilan address.
Unless Abbas is also bluffing.The writer is a
syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He writes regularly
for Anglo-Jewish newspapers and is the former legislative director of AIPAC and
Washington representative of the World Jewish Congress.