WASHINGTON – When the ceremonies cease, when the speech-making ends, when the
chandeliers in ornate halls are turned off, when Egyptian President Hosni
Mubarak and Jordan’s King Abdullah II go home, and when US President Barack
Obama’s attention is diverted elsewhere, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will be left – just the two of
them – alone in a room.
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And, as the two leaders’ speeches at the ceremony
in the State Department’s Benjamin Franklin room on Thursday morning to mark the
start of direct negotiations indicated, it is then going to get very, very
The day before, at the White House, in the presence of Obama,
Mubarak and Abdullah, Netanyahu said, “I did not come here to play a blame game
where even the winners lose. I came here to achieve a peace that will bring
benefits to all.”
But at the State Department on Thursday, just as the
two men were to get down to the proverbial brass tacks, the blame game
started. It was polite, civilized, not overheated, but it started. It
direct, but it started.
Netanyahu, who spoke in English after US
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton welcomed the sides to the table, said
agreement would necessitate mutual concessions.
“Now, this will not be
easy. A true peace, a lasting peace, would be achieved only with mutual
painful concessions from both sides – from the Israeli side, from the
Palestinian side, from my side, and from your side,” he said.
speaking in Arabic, made no mention of the need for Palestinian
Instead, he said that the parameters of an agreement need not be
and that “we are not starting from scratch.”
Netanyahu reiterated what he
said at his Bar-Ilan University speech a year ago, that the two
peace are Palestinian recognition of Israel’s legitimacy, and Israeli
Just as the Palestinians expect Israel to recognize a
Palestinian state as “the nation state of the Palestinian people, we
to recognize Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people.”
added that “mutual recognition between us is indispensable to clarifying
people that the conflict between us is over.”
Abbas’s response: The
Palestinians already recognized Israel once, on September 9, 1993, when
Rabin and Yasser Arafat signed a document of mutual recognition.
subtext: How many times do we have to recognize you, to which Israel’s
is that that document was never properly ratified by the Palestinian
Our intentions are genuine, Abbas said.
We want to
reach an “end of conflict.”
As far as security is concerned, Netanyahu
said that Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s terrorist attacks have underscored
critical the security element is for Israel.
“Security is the foundation
of peace.” he said. “Without it, peace will unravel. With it, peace can
stable and enduring.”
Security, Abbas countered, is vital for both sides,
and “we cannot allow for anyone to do anything that would undermine your
security and our security.” The young Palestinian security apparatus is
built, and “doing what is expected.”
Indeed, said Abbas – who again
condemned this week’s terrorist attacks – the Palestinian security
found the car used in the attack near Hebron, and arrested those who
bought the car.
“And we will continue all our effort to take security
measures in order to find the perpetrators,” he said. You see, Abbas
be saying, we are taking steps.
Don’t lecture us about
So there it is, the talks did not even start, and the sides
were arguing – point, counter- point – albeit very civilly.
If that is
what takes place in front of the camera, one can only imagine what the
will be during the direct talks behind closed doors.
At the very least,
however, now there is some kind of dynamic.