Netanyahu's plan? It's about nothing

A reversal of roles between Israel and the Palestinians has been taking place over the last 2 years, with the latter becoming more strategically savvy while the former’s sophistication diminishes. In this context, any new “plan” that Netanyahu hopes can save the day may end up in the ever-growing diplomatic graveyard.

Obama, Netanyahu, Abbas at White House 311 (R) (photo credit: Jason Reed / Reuters)
Obama, Netanyahu, Abbas at White House 311 (R)
(photo credit: Jason Reed / Reuters)
Phew, the wait is finally over. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will present a "Peace Plan" or at least unveil "An Initiative." Sliced-bread sentiments surface once more. Of course, it’s tempting to criticize Netanyahu for being too late, or for being indifferent and condescending in the last two years, thinking he can buy time but never bothering to explain what strategic purpose it serves. The move also invites repeating the usual accusation that whatever plan he concocts under pressure of Israel’s increasing isolation is destined to be ridiculed around the world because the fact remains that the PM and Israel have a severe credibility shortage and will not be taken seriously. But not only would that would be redundant, it is also somewhat unfair - even if the plan does end up being a Seinfeld-esque "It's about nothing.”
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Since I have no idea what exactly he intends to present and because it’s the easiest thing in the world is to deride, dismiss, mock or ignore altogether, I'll try to do the next best thing: dispel the notion that a plan is needed at all.
The reason is that no matter what "plan" Netanyahu introduces or recycles, and regardless of whether it is genuine or just another spin, the Palestinians will not accept it. Obviously he can re-introduce either the Camp David contours of a comprehensive "Conflict Ending" plan presented by former prime minister Ehud Barak in July 2000 (aka "The Clinton Parameters" enunciated in January 2001) or re-offer the basic tenets of what former prime minister Ehud Olmert and opposition leader Tzipi Livni reportedly offered PA leader Mahmoud Abbas in 2008. But in both cases the Palestinians rejected the plans on the grounds that the "finality of all claims" on the core issues was incompatible with their positions.
In 2000 and in 2008 the Palestinians arguably had substantive reasoning for their rejection. They may have been shortsighted and a-historically foolish, but their reservations were real and rooted in their interpretation of the conflict and embedded in their "narrative." That was then.
Now the Palestinians seem to have devised a strategy of rejectionism, based on the premise that it actually serves their interests. In other words, the Palestinians are content with the present no-process status-quo. The last one to figure this out seems to be Mr. Netanyahu who, in the last two years, has been unknowingly and unwittingly falling into their trap by essentially believing that since they are not serious interlocutors time is in fact on Israel's side.
By sanctifying the status-quo and making it Israel's default foreign policy, Netanyahu did exactly what the Palestinians wanted: he enabled the process to be  internationalized, allowed for it to be defined and debated in international institutions and isolated Israel in an unprecedented way.
While historically, the Palestinians have not been wise, as demonstrated by their abject failure to attain real sovereignty and independence, they have become increasingly savvy, sophisticated and strategic in their thinking. And while the Zionist enterprise is both historically prudent and constitutes a political success almost unparalleled in modern international relations, contemporary Israeli statesmanship is anything but savvy and sophisticated. This role reversal is a product of roughly the last two years and poses a clear and present peril to Israel's diplomacy and further alienates the international system.
In fact, while the Palestinians really did miss every opportunity to miss an opportunity, as goes the eternal cliché, they somehow turned the cumulative failure into an unlikely advantage.
The Palestinians realize that they cannot get a reiteration of Camp David from this government. They also realize that anything less will suck them into a tedious and ineffectual process and divert international attention away. Furthermore, they recognize that this government is unpopular in the world and that relations between the White House and the PM office are tense and based on little trust and personal affinity. So they conjured an embellished idea: Portray Israel as intransigent, rejectionist, unwilling to seriously subscribe to the two-state model, while simultaneously demonstrating tangible efforts at nation-building and economic development. Their task became much easier by Israel’s adamant restraint in coming up with any viable initiative. It will take time, so goes the Palestinian logic, but the entire world will recognize a Palestinian state. Just look at the last UN Security Council vote: 14:0 and a noticeably reluctant, bitter and uncomfortable US veto.
The role reversal was amplified when Netanyahu's implicit tactic of portraying the Palestinians as serial refusniks backfired. Now the world is absolutely sure that Israel is the intransigent and guilty party, and that the Palestinians are the innocent, peace-striving victims of an ongoing occupation.
So now Netanyahu is coming up with a plan that will in all probability prove to be an exercise in diplomatic and political futility. There is a very simple equation underlining whatever ideas he exhorts. It may result in him losing his coalition, or on the other hand, if it is dismissed as yet another hollow speech, will further exacerbate Israel's isolation and diminish his own stature. No one in the world - and certainly no one in the White House - will blame the Palestinians for rebuffing just another Israeli half-baked plan.
I happen to share many of Netanyahu's apprehensions and analyses on the dangers of a prematurely established Palestinian state. I also share his frustrations about how the world just doesn't get it - especially in respect to the larger perils of the Middle East. What I categorically do not share, however, is his resignation to inaction, his bubble-boy foreign policy and his line of thinking that the status-quo is sustainable. If it is sustainable for the near future it is only because it serves the Palestinians right now, and it’s us who don’t really get it.
If Netanyahu could only go back in time to circa May 2009, he should have discreetly presented the plan he thinks of now to US President Barack Obama. Netanyahu could have also declared that the Saudi Peace Plan (the Arab League initiative of 2003) is a basis for negotiations and nothing more. In either case, he could have avoided the trap he got himself and Israel into.
The writer is a diplomat who recently served as consul-general in New York.