WASHINGTON WATCH: One more missed opportunity

Imagine what would have happened if Abbas took the dare and showed up in Paris with a detailed and realistic peace proposal that the Europeans and Americans could support?

PM Netanyahu hosts French counterpart Manuel Valls (photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
PM Netanyahu hosts French counterpart Manuel Valls
(photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
In his zeal to block a French-led effort to convene an international Middle East peace conference, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told French Prime Minister Manuel Valls last week that while such a meeting would be useless, he’s ready to “fly to Paris tomorrow” for one-on-one negotiations with the Palestinian leader.
It’s a safe offer because he knew he had a key ally in his corner: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
And sure enough, Abbas came through once again. Rather than call Netanyahu’s bluff about being ready for serious peace talks, the Palestinians rejected the offer out of hand.
He walked into a trap cleverly set by Netanyahu. Come, let’s talk right now, said the Israeli. No thanks, not interested, said the Palestinian.
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah handed Netanyahu a victory in their empty war of words about who really wants peace. I’m ready to talk and you guys aren’t, was Netanyahu’s familiar refrain. That may cheer the Israeli leader, but his ploy won’t impress just about anybody else.
Hamdallah accused Netanyahu of just trying to “buy time... but this time he will not escape the international community.”
Guess again, Rami. You’re right and he will. That’s because he knows Abbas isn’t any more serious about cut - ting a deal than he is.
The French plan to convene various foreign ministers – minus the Israelis and Palestinians but including US Secretary of State John Kerry – in Paris on Friday for a planning session for a late-summer conference, but it’s going nowhere.
Abbas met with Arab League leaders in Cairo over the weekend to endorse the French proposal and demand that a date be set for concluding a deal and for the end of the occupation.
That’s a poison pill the United States will not swallow.
To Netanyahu, a deadline is an incentive for Abbas to run out the clock and hope the big powers – which he feels confident are more sympathetic to his positions than Israel’s – will be so frustrated that they will try to impose a settlement on Israel.
On the other hand, without a deadline, Abbas has good reason to expect Netanyahu would drag out talks into the next millennium, all the while expanding settlements to the point that no land will be left for a viable, contiguous Palestinian state.
They’re both right.
Abbas’ rationale is simple: he doesn’t want to be accused to conceding anything to the Zionists.
Instead he chooses to focus on isolating Israel diplomatically and attempting to criminalize and delegitimize the Jewish state.
Similarly, Netanyahu doesn’t want to be known as the midwife of Palestinian statehood.
Anwar Sadat and Yitzhak Rabin stand as object lessons for Abbas and Netanyahu. Not for their courage in making peace but for being murdered for trying. Netanyahu sees his natural political home on the ultranationalist/religious Right; he witnessed their rallies vilifying Rabin before one of them shot him.
Making peace “takes big, bold leaders” like Sadat and Menachem Begin, Rabin and king Hussein, said Aaron Miller, a veteran US peace envoy. Abbas and Netanyahu are weak leaders who lack the “authority and strength and... the capacity and motivation to do a deal,” writes Miller, who has dealt with all of them.
“The very real danger that the continuing occupation will erode Israel’s character as a Jewish democratic state, increase its international isolation, and strain relations with its friends, including the United States, is present but simply not felt immediately or severely enough to overcome the risks of taking bold steps to end that occupation.”
So far there seems little concern on Netanyahu’s part; his focus is on staying in power. The only history he’s making is endurance. So far, he faces little public pres - sure to make peace.
The Israeli premier’s greatest worry is the international community will gang up on him at a multilateral conference, and he is supremely confident that he can prevail if they are out of the room and he’s left alone with the Palestinians.
In the short run, however, he’s worried what US Pres - ident Barack Obama might do in the closing days of his administration. Netanyahu fears those days between the election and inauguration will be payback time for real and perceived offenses.
For as long as he’s been in office Netanyahu has been saying it takes a right-winger like him to make peace – the Israeli version of Nixon and China – but for just as long he’s done no more than talk. On the contrary: he has built governments dependent on ultranationalists who utterly reject a two-state solution, and he has continued a settlement enterprise that the Palestinians see – with good reason – as indications he really does oppose any reason - able peace settlement. He says he supports the two-state solution but hasn’t once asked his party, his cabinet or his coalition to endorse it. And with his new ultranationalist-religious alliance the prospects are even more remote.
Once again he has challenged Abbas to face-to-face talks.
Imagine what would have happened if Abbas took the dare and showed up in Paris with a detailed and realistic peace proposal that the Europeans and Americans could support? But forget it. That takes too much courage, something both leaders lack.