For Zion's sake: Not in our vital interest

With all due respect to the prime minister, these talks, like the price we will be paying for them, are not in our vital strategic interest.

John Kerry meets with Mahmoud Abbas (photo credit: Mandel Ngan / REUTERS)
John Kerry meets with Mahmoud Abbas
(photo credit: Mandel Ngan / REUTERS)
In a matter of days, Israel will resume its bad habits: It will begin releasing a large number of convicted terrorists, with reports varying from 82 to up to 350, and it will bar its citizens from building, which for many of them means living, in the communities of their choosing east of the 1949 Armistice Line.
This will all be in the name of another bad habit: resuming the mindless shuffle known as the “peace process,” which the prime minister has now termed a “vital strategic interest” for Israel “in and of itself.”
With all due respect to the prime minister, these talks, like the price we will be paying for them, are not in our vital strategic interest.
While Binyamin Netanyahu is the thrice-elected leader of a peace desiring people, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is well into the eighth year of his oneterm presidency, fears holding elections, and rules an unwilling electorate which he helped condition to hate Israel via a steady program of propaganda in education, culture and politics.
That is why when two of the primary negotiators in the upcoming talks – Netanyahu’s personal envoy Isaac Molcho and PA propagandist Saeb Erekat – last committed to negotiate, in late 2011-early 2012, half the time was spent wondering whether Erekat would show up.
When Erekat did arrive, one of the first points the Palestinian delegation raised was that the talks would end as soon as discussions on borders and security began.
The crux of the problem is that the Palestinians will not or cannot accept the minimal parameters which Netanyahu has said signify the Israeli “consensus”: a united Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty, a temporary Israeli military presence in future Palestinian territory, or recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.
Abbas is also only the ostensible leader of a portion of his people.
Even if he had the support of “West Bank” Palestinians, no agreement he might sign would apply to Gaza, where Hamas rules.
So even though Netanyahu’s position today is dangerously close to those of his former political nemeses, like his negotiation team leader, Tzipi Livni, it remains unlikely that Abbas & Co. would agree to an “end of conflict clause,” which the prime minister has identified as an essential ingredient to peace, and even if such a clause were signed, it would be worthless.
The talks will accomplish something, though. They will make US Secretary of State John Kerry feel better about all the time he spent on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict while neglecting the most important crises facing the region in decades.
Yet even that will yield no diplomatic points for Israel vis-à-vis the US or the rest of the world. Before talks have even begun Israel has already been pressured into making tangible concessions, while the Palestinians have given nothing.
That’s a pretty good indication of how the talks will proceed.
At each impasse (the Palestinians threaten to walk out), only one party will be asked to make more gestures to keep the talks going.
And ultimately, only one party will be blamed when they fail (the Palestinians actually walk out). Hint: it won’t be the Palestinians.
The US secretary of state will not publicly tell the Palestinians (and only the Palestinians) to pick up a phone and call the White House when they are serious about talks.
The media will not talk about Abbas’s right-wing government as an obstacle to peace.
World leaders will not commiserate about how Abbas is a frustrating liar behind his back.
Such treatment is reserved for Israel.
It reflects the positive correlation between the growth in hostility toward and pressure on Israel on the one hand and Israel’s concession and gesture-making policy on the other.
In the prime minister’s September 2009 address to the United Nations he declared, in reference to the Gaza disengagement, that “if Israel is again asked to take more risk for peace, we must know today that you will stand with us tomorrow.”
That plea was ignored.
The international community instead demonstrated that it does not see Israeli concessions as such or as risks to be appreciated or rewarded, but steps which Israel is obliged to make. Once a concession is made, that view is confirmed, the sacrifice is forgotten and shortly thereafter, new ones are required.
The disengagement, the initial 10- month settlement freeze, the “silent freezes,” Netanyahu’s shift on Palestinian statehood – they might as well have never happened.
Israel had, however, found a formula for halting the slide down that slippery slope by declaring that it was open to talks, but would not agree to preconditions or pay a price just to bring the Palestinians to the table. That’s a pretty fair position.
That President Obama had signaled his willingness to forgo wasting at least his own time on the peace process while also demonstrating American solidarity with Israel was a sign that it was working.
In fact, since the Obama- Netanyahu confrontation at the Oval Office Israel has largely avoided international and US pressure and steered clear of the spotlight, to the extent possible – especially in relation to the rest of the past 20 years.
That left the Palestinians to stew in their own rejectionism and increasing irrelevance relative to nearby conflicts.
By abandoning that formula and paying a pre-negotiation price, however, Israel is instead positioning itself to be the center of attention and a magnet for pressure for the duration of the talks and their aftermath.