If the Palestinian-Israeli peace process were a basketball game, both sides
would be called for stalling. There’s a lot of trash talk going on, but no
But it isn’t a basketball game, it’s a blame game.
Neither side seems seriously interested in returning to the peace table, just in
going through the motions to impress the fans.
It’s a lot like last
week’s budget battle between Republicans and Democrats; the real issue wasn’t
what good we can achieve for the country, but who is going to get blamed when it
all goes south.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, whom
Binyamin Netanyahu has called his partner for peace, says he won’t talk with the
prime minister until he freezes all construction, including in Jerusalem, and
agrees that the 1949 armistice lines will be the basis for negotiating
“You kill, we build” became Netanyahu’s motto after last month’s
brutal murders of a settler family. Moreover, he won’t agree to the 1949 lines
as a reference point, because that would cost him his best bargaining
Both leaders are bluffing and both know it, but neither is
interested in calling the other out.
Abbas’s real strategy isn’t to coax
Bibi to the table, but to bypass him entirely by going to the UN General
Assembly in September to seek full membership for the State of Palestine. He has
the votes in a lopsided GA, but knows that this strategy risks fatally damaging
any negotiated agreement – the only solution Israel is likely to
To foil Abbas’s plan, Netanyahu is coming to Washington next
month to speak to the annual AIPAC policy conference, and he may also address
the Congress. Both will give him friendlier receptions than he can expect at the
UN or even the Knesset, where support for vigorous Israeli pursuit of peace
appears greater than on Capitol Hill. That may explain why he is reportedly
planning to unveil his peace initiative in the US, where he won’t get hammered
from the Right for even raising the subject and from the Left for being too
Haaretz columnist Ari Shavit says Israel needs “a preemptive
diplomatic strike” to head off international recognition of a Palestinian state.
He sees Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak standing dumbfounded on the
deck of the Titanic, steering it directly into the iceberg.
have no mercy on anyone who doesn’t act now,” he says.
growing pressure at home and abroad to prove his talk about wanting peace is
more than empty rhetoric.
He has told German Chancellor Angela Merkel
that he is preparing his own peace initiative, and President Shimon Peres played
advance man when he lunched at the White House last week with President Barack
Obama to assure him Netanyahu is serious.
No one, probably not even
Netanyahu himself, knows exactly what he will unveil in Washington, but reports
out of the prime minister’s circle and other Jerusalem sources suggest some
He’ll open with the usual rhetoric: “Nobody wants peace
more than I do, and I’m ready to sit down and talk unconditionally, but I can’t
when the other side refuses, demands all the concessions in advance, does
nothing about incitement and can’t even decide who’s in charge, the moderates or
the terrorists. And don’t forget, the whole Arab world is in turmoil, and that
requires caution and not hasty decisions. Iran still wants to wipe us off the
map. We can’t make peace with a bifurcated Palestinian movement, but a
Fatah-Hamas reconciliation will kill any chances for peace.”
be sparse. Look for an offer of limited transfer of territory to the PA (a
fraction of the 90+ percent offered by Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert), redeployment
of troops from large parts of the West Bank, greater responsibility for PA
security forces, a long-term IDF presence in the Jordan Valley, removal of some
illegal outposts but no settlements, and recognition of a provisional
Palestinian state with limited sovereignty and interim borders, with final
status to be discussed after an extended period of adjustment.
It will be
promptly rejected by the Palestinians and almost everyone else as too little,
too late. And Netanyahu knows it.
Bibi’s strongest card is Abbas’s
refusal to accept his offer of immediate, unconditional talks, but the
Palestinian leader can shrug that off because he has seen Israel’s international
standing plummet on Netanyahu’s watch, and that can’t be blamed on Obama, Iran,
the Arabs, jihadists or European anti-Semites.
It is no secret that
Merkel, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Obama and other world leaders
seriously question whether Netanyahu is serious about making peace.
needs to change their minds if he expects them to reject Palestinian unilateral
moves at the United Nations in September. Obama has already declared his strong
opposition to Abbas taking the UN route, but will he want to stand alone?
Moreover, Netanyahu calculates Obama is preoccupied with two-and-a-half wars
abroad, a bigger budget battle at home and a tough election coming up, so he
won’t have the time or inclination to make any dramatic moves on the peace front
much before 2013.
He may be overconfident.
“Time is not on
Israel’s side,” warned former US ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk. “This would
be a good time for the Israeli leadership to take the initiative.”
National Director Abe Foxman agreed: “Ninety percent of American Jews would want
the prime minister to take some kind of initiative.”
In other words, stop
stalling. It’s time for a full-court firstname.lastname@example.org