Mahmoud Abbas has a penchant for climbing out on limbs and expecting others to
get him down. The first time wasn’t all his fault.
When newly minted
President Barack Obama demanded Israel freeze settlements as a path to the peace
table, Abbas, who had never set such conditions previously, could not agree to
less. Trouble is, Israel rejected it and Obama soon walked away, leaving Abbas
Abbas climbed down briefly when Binyamin Netanyahu announced a
10-month freeze, but the Palestinian leader, who never really had much of an
appetite for negotiations, dawdled for the first nine months and then demanded
Netanyahu extend the freeze indefinitely.
No thanks, said the Israeli
prime minister, who didn’t have much of an appetite either.
scampered back out on his settlement limb and two more, costing him the backing
of the Obama administration.
First, he began pursuing a policy of
appealing to the UN General Assembly for recognition of Palestinian statehood
and membership, confident he could win the needed two-thirds vote. Then he
signed a unity pact with Hamas, knowing Israel would not negotiate with a
government that included a terrorist group dedicated to its
Mahmoud the limb climber was stranded when French Foreign
Minister Alain Juppe arrived in Ramallah last week with a ladder in the form of
an invitation to a Middle East peace conference in Paris. He then went to
Jerusalem to deliver the same invitation to Netanyahu.
It was a lucky
break because Abbas’s UN strategy was starting to crumble, so he quickly
accepted the invitation.
What was supposed to be a slam-dunk at the UN
turned out to be a blocked shot thanks to the Swiss guard and intense personal
lobbying by the American president.
Joseph Deiss, the Swiss diplomat who
is currently president of the General Assembly, declared that General Assembly
action requires approval of the Security Council – where an American veto is
(However, that could change in September, when Deiss will
be replaced by Qatar’s UN Ambassador, who could have a very different
interpretation, and the Security Council will be chaired by Lebanon’s delegate.)
Ma’an, the Palestinian news agency, reported Abbas aides concede his UN strategy
is failing and his best hope may be a face-saving, non-binding resolution saying
the Palestinians deserve a state of their own.
The French are offering
Abbas a chance to say he got the negotiations he demanded. But Netanyahu is
apparently unwilling to cooperate, even though he is no longer being asked to
freeze any settlement construction or make any advance concessions, and the
French invitation speaks not of the usual two-state solution but of “two states
for two peoples” – an implicit endorsement of Israel’s demand for recognition as
a Jewish state.
Netanyahu signaled his rejection at Sunday’s cabinet
meeting, citing the Fatah-Hamas unity deal.
For all his rhetoric in
Washington, whether lecturing the president in the Oval Office, rousing AIPAC
loyalists or addressing Congress, Netanyahu seems intent on cementing his
reputation as all talk and no action when it comes to making
France’s diplomatic soufflé is unlikely to rise.
IT IS an
opportunity for Abbas to save face by declaring his UN strategy succeeded
because he got the negotiations he insists were his real goal all
Netanyahu has the most to lose. He can accept the French
invitation and face the criticism of his rejectionist base – a small risk, since
he’s riding high in the polls and hasn’t any real competition – or he can refuse
to participate and face worsening international isolation.
The Likud may
buy his explanation – “Negotiations will not be conducted with a Palestinian
government half of which is Hamas, a terrorist organization that seeks to
destroy Israel” – but it can be a tough sell elsewhere.
Amb. Dennis Ross,
the veteran White House Mideast envoy, reportedly told Jewish leaders last week
that the Europeans “don’t believe the prime minister of Israel is serious” about
making peace with the Palestinians.
Many will interpret Netanyahu’s
rejection as one more missed opportunity. It could solidify support for a rarely
used UN strategy to bypass the Security Council and bring wavering countries –
like Britain and France – into the Palestinian column, leaving the United States
once again isolated, a challenge for its international influence.
measure goes to the General Assembly for a non-binding vote, it is almost
certain to get the support of two thirds of the 192 current members, and
Palestinians and their supporters will have new ammunition
in their campaign to delegitimize Israel and advance the
It could also be an excuse for
extremists to justify intensified violence, and potentially a third
Without Israeli participation, the Paris meeting will go on,
but as originally planned – a donor conference to raise money for the
Palestinian Authority – and Abbas will come away looking like the peacemaker
Netanyahu is afraid to negotiate email@example.com