The very notion of dragging an unwilling interlocutor to the negotiating table should be unthinkable.
By SARAH HONIG
We have no tangible proof that the White House had indeed applied brutal pressure on poor Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority’s teeter-tottering Ramallah half. This remains unsubstantiated. American officials haven’t confirmed news reports and derivative innuendo from both Israeli and Palestinian sources. But if we set aside our skepticism and assume, for argument’s sake, that Obama and crew did indeed twist Abbas’s arms, we ought to be outraged.The very notion of dragging an unwilling interlocutor to the negotiating table should be unthinkable, certainly no cause for glee among Israelis.This is akin to a shotgun wedding. However, it’s even less likely to lead to harmony than forced nuptials are to result in matrimonial bliss. We’ve been there, seen this.TEN YEARS ago Bill Clinton had dragged a kicking and screaming Yasser Arafat to Camp David, where he also leaned on then-PM Ehud Barak to make egregious offers to reward Arafat for his “cooperation.”To the amazement of both American and Israeli wishful-thinkers, Arafat spurned the outstretched hand and Israel’s mad magnanimity.Unlike the Americans and Israelis, Arafat wasn’t out to end the dispute. That was the last thing on his priorities list. Indeed right at the top of said list was perpetuating and escalating the dispute. No sooner did the Camp David powwow flop, than Arafat unleashed his premeditated second intifada.Violence raged and claimed lives in an unremitting bloodbath until Israel did the “non-peaceful” thing and launched Operation Defensive Shield.AdvertisementArafat was a super-icon, not only locally but throughout the Arab world. Abbas precariously survives by virtue of the protection accorded him by the very Israel he compulsively demonizes whenever speaking in Arabic. It’s folly to expect pathetic Abbas to deliver what revered Arafat couldn’t. Making concessions to Abbas is no different from making concessions to an effigy of our own creation.Arafat feared being branded a traitor if he relinquished the right to overrun Israel with the progeny of supposed refugees and if he recognized the legitimacy of a Jewish state in what is claimed as exclusive Arab dominion. Whatever was untenable for Arafat is ten times worse for his ineffectual successor.But not only would coercing Abbas prove counterproductive; it’s a perilous precedent which sooner than later would be turned against Israel.Let’s assume, again for argument’s sake, that Abbas grudgingly “relents” and proceeds to engage in direct contacts with the vilified Netanyahu. Abbas will thereby score popularity points worldwide and probably also secure concessions for just agreeing to palaver – like continuing the freeze on Jewish construction in Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem. It’ll cost us to make him look pretty. We lose twice: by enhancing Abbas’s image and paying his price.And after we cleverly manage to bamboozle ourselves, the pressure will be turned on us – way more ruthlessly than on Abbas. The construction freeze could become a permanent fixture with no advantage gained on our part but with spiraling disadvantages from here on.Israeli leaders must step back from the immediate agenda of ingratiating themselves with Obama. Promoting negotiations with an unwilling peace-partner to the be-all and end-all is shortsighted and risky. Israeli leaders capable of perceiving the bigger picture ought to fume – in public, for the whole wide world to hear – against coercive interference from outsider busybodies, whoever they may be. Israeli leaders ought to speak up for Abbas’s right to decide, without pressure, whether or not to negotiate.ISRAELI LEADERS ought to stand tall both for our sovereignty and for the sovereignty of any Arab interlocutor. No outsider possesses the right to impose anything on any of us. This will not only serve us well and eventually deflect pressure from Israel too, but it’s the ethical stand to take. Moreover, it may preempt deception. It may forestall situations in which the Arab side garners PR points because it seems to be accommodating but in fact does precisely the reverse of what it broadcasts.The bottom-line result will anyhow be the same, whether Abbas is coerced into a talkathon or whether he is allowed to avoid the ordeal. No peace will emerge in any case – not from an Obama-led sequel to Clinton’s Camp David extravaganza and not from a continued Abbas refusal to meet face-to-face.You can take a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. You can pull Abbas to a conference room somewhere but you can’t make him sign on the dotted line and, more so, you can’t make him deliver.All that Obama would accomplish would be to destabilize Ramallah’s honcho. Abbas will be put in the same quandary as Arafat was by Clinton.Perhaps he’ll have to redeem himself by triggering the Third Intifada.If he doesn’t, Hamas will seize the initiative to make political hay. The enticement to undermine the remnants of Abbas’s position and sabotage any restarted “peace” process, will reinvigorate Hamas’s lust for blood. That, in turn, will oblige Abbas’s own hotheads in Fatah’s Aksa Brigades and their like to prove to Hamas that they can spill no less Jewish blood. The competition will be on for the glory of who can inflict more pain on Israel.Either way, meddling from abroad will stir a mammoth hornet’s nest here. When rank amateurs try their hand at dabbling where they can only cause damage, the fiasco is inevitable.Obama’s Mideast record proves this incontrovertibly.Anything this Midas-antithesis touched turned out disastrously.His obsequiousness to the Arab/Muslim world hardly stimulated greater moderation. The opposite is true (i.e., Turkey). Obama’s sucking up to Arabs/Muslims and iciness toward Israel failed to impress Iran, Syria, Syrian lackey Lebanon, etc.Even in Gaza and Ramallah, he’s mocked as a nonentity.The Mideast’s bad boys don’t fear Obama.At most they see him as a feeble sissy. If anything, radicalism in Arab/Muslim spheres only swelled in the year since Obama’s landmark Cairo speech.A victim of his own mystique, Obama pretentiously cast himself in the mold of some of America’s greatest statesmen of yesteryear, but there’s nothing concrete to show for all the posturing.Obama talks the talk grandly but fails to walk the walk. He’s clueless about this region.He convinced himself that honeyed blandishments will send seduced Arab/Muslim autocrats into his arms. This was never going to happen. Obama conjectured – objectionably – that Israelis are wary of him because of his middle- name. The truth is that more than Israelis are put off, Arabs didn’t fall for the American President’s Arab moniker.Obama doesn’t get it. But this only makes this tenderfoot’s intervention all the more dangerous.He’d do both Israelis and Arabs a favor to treat us as adults who can handle our own business – if we want to. That is our choice to make.The best all buttinskys everywhere can do is to keep their noses out of our life-and-death tribulations.www.sarahhonig.com