Getting the Israelis and Palestinians to the peace table wasn’t easy, and
keeping them there is proving a challenge for a very determined Secretary of
State John Kerry. His greatest worry has to be that both sides may be looking
for a blame-avoiding excuse to take a walk.
That may have been part of
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s decision to announce he was
calling off the fourth session of secret talks, which was to have been held
Monday in Jericho. His excuse was the violent clash in the Kalandiya refugee
camp near Ramallah earlier that day that left three Palestinians dead and
several wounded when a large crowd attacked Israeli soldiers who had gone in to
arrest a suspected terrorist.
But Abbas may have had something else in
Instead of saying such encounters emphasize the need for a peace
agreement he went in the opposite direction, focusing instead on escalating his
threats against Israel and using the incident to press his demand for direct
American intervention in the talks.
His spokesman repeated old threats to
file charges of war crimes, ethnic cleansing, genocide and other offenses in the
World Court and various other international agencies in response to the
Kalandiya incident and continued settlement construction. That doesn’t sound
like a confidence-building measure by one who says he wants a peaceful end to
Abbas has to decide whether he wants to poison the well or
make peace. He can’t have it both ways. Similarly Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu’s expanded settlement construction is also well poison in the eyes of
In Palestinian-Israeli negotiations it has become irritatingly
common for each side to declare its purity of heart and genuine desire for peace
while questioning the other’s intentions and integrity.
It would appear
that the last thing the Palestinians want is to be alone in the room with the
And the last thing Netanyahu wants is to have the Americans at
the table, where he fears he could be outnumbered.
leadership is accusing the US of not taking the talks seriously enough and
demanding Washington “immediately intervene and block a complete collapse of the
What Abbas really wants is for the US to be his
In fact, he’d like to internationalize the talks, bringing in
not only the Americans but the Europeans, the United Nations and the Russians as
That’s not only because he is confident that America’s vision of
what a final agreement should look like is much closer to his than Netanyahu’s,
but also because to make peace he knows he will have to make some difficult
compromises and he’d rather make any needed concessions to the Americans than to
the Israelis. That would also be much easier to sell at home.
chooses to ignore is that all of Israel’s historic breakthroughs with the Arabs
– peace with Egypt and Jordan and the Oslo Accords with the Palestinians – were
achieved through direct negotiations between the parties themselves, free of any
US involvement. Washington was only brought in as the closer, and that’s the way
it should be.
Also this week, Abbas broke Kerry’s gag rule on the talks
by complaining to visitors that no progress had been made in the first three
sessions because of Israeli foot-dragging.
Kerry has insisted – and until
now successfully – that what happens in the room stays in the room. He was to be
the only one authorized to speak publicly; in his view the less that leaked out
the better the chances to avoid pressure from the varied interests outside the
room and the greater the chances for success.
Abbas’ leak may be part of
his strategy to raise the pressure on Washington and Jerusalem. It came in a
meeting last week with leftist Knesset members in which he complained that the
Israelis are stalling. If it were up to him they’d be meeting every day or two
instead of every week or 10 days, he said.
His interview also serves a
worthy purpose that Netanyahu could do well to emulate: Public
Abbas began with a group of Israeli lawmakers, mostly from the
Meretz party, and ministers who support the two-state approach, and he is
expected to expand that this week by inviting members of Knesset’s Caucus on
Ending the Israeli-Arab Conflict to Ramallah to toast Rosh Hashanah.
July, a group of Palestinian parliamentarians were hosted at Knesset and their
flag flew over the Israeli parliament.
Remember it was Sadat’s public
diplomacy in November 1977 that changed the Middle East; there may be no Sadats
today, but even lesser men like Netanyahu and Abbas can reach out across borders
and speak directly to the people.
Abbas spoke to his Israeli visitors
about border adjustments, an end to the conflict, a demilitarized state, no more
territorial claims to Jaffa, Acre, Safed and Haifa or other places inside Israel
– which sounded like dropping the right of return demand for refugees. It was
all reported in the Israeli media, which many Palestinians see, but they need to
hear these things directly so they know it is not just for foreign
He has said he is willing to meet with
Rather than another photo-op, the cause of peace would be
better served by each inviting the other to his capital to speak of his vision
Netanyahu needs to engage in greater public diplomacy, not
with speeches on Capitol Hill, lectures in European capitals or cartoons at the
UN but right in his own back yard.
He spoke passionately to the Israeli
people about the difficult decision he made “for the good of the country” in
releasing 104 Palestinian prisoners, many with Jewish blood on their hands,
because he felt it served a higher purpose.
It is time for both leaders
to speak frankly to their own people and to their neighbors about the
compromises ahead, and how neither can have everything they want – or have been
promised. There will be compromises on borders, refugees, security and
Jerusalem. It makes no sense to persist with maximalist demands unless you’re
making a case against peace. It’s time to stop making threats and questioning
the other’s side’s motives. Leadership means leading, not
©2013 Douglas M. Bloomfield