Washington watch: Slamming the door to peace

Netanyahu would prefer to hang on to the status quo, Abbas made clear that he wants the world to impose his terms on Israel while making no concessions of his own.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (photo credit: REUTERS)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Sorry, Shimon Peres, but despite your endorsements, Mahmoud Abbas just resigned his post as partner for peace. His vitriol-laced United Nations speech accusing Israel of “genocide,” “war crimes,” “racism,” “apartheid,” “state terrorism” and “preparing for a new Nakba [catastrophe]” are not the words of a peacemaker but of a man intent on slamming the door to peace.
His obnoxious rant aimed at demonizing and delegitimizing the Jewish state was matched by the speech by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who managed to sound even more self-righteous and less willing to compromise than usual.
Abbas’s speech was a gift to Netanyahu. It said “I’m not serious, so you don’t have to be either.” The reality is neither man was ever really ready to make the “historic compromises” Netanyahu called for but once again avoided in his speech from the same stage on Monday.
Netanyahu would prefer to hang on to the status quo and Abbas made it clear once again that he wants the rest of the world to impose his terms on Israel while making no concessions of his own.
The odd man out is US President Barack Obama who, like many of his predecessors, was left seeking a peace agreement the parties themselves didn’t want badly enough to make it happen.
Hopes that the Palestinian position would be more realistic were quickly dashed, as were unrealistic Palestinian expectations that following this summer’s Gaza war Washington would increase pressure on Israel to meet Palestinian demands.
Obama, who will see Netanyahu at the White House, didn’t even bother meeting with Abbas this month, no doubt still smarting from the Palestinian leader’s rejection of his plea last spring to endorse the US framework for peace and extend the negotiations, which collapsed shortly afterwards.
Instead the State Department angrily condemned Abbas’ speech, calling it “offensive,” “deeply disappointing,” “provocative” and “counterproductive.”
US Secretary of State John Kerry warned Abbas that if he went ahead with threats to push for a United Nations Security Council resolution setting a deadline for Israeli withdrawal, the United States would veto it. And if he carries out his threats to go to the International Criminal Court with war crimes charges he risks rupturing his financial and political backing from Washington and others.
Like Abbas, Netanyahu considers himself blameless for the failure of the peace process and puts full responsibility on the other side. The prime minister called for bypassing the Palestinians and seeking “broader rapprochement” with other Arabs, something he knows in a non-starter.
He called for a “fresh approach from our neighbors” but offered none himself. He played defense all the way, telling everyone else what they should be doing but offering no initiatives of his own.
And all the while, Netanyahu endorses continued settlement expansion, an unmistakable sign that he has no intention of allowing a viable Palestinian state to be born. Knesset member Shelly Yacimovich said it would have been better to answer the attacks on Israel with “a real, daring diplomatic plan,” but instead “Netanyahu does not miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”
Similarly, Abbas failed to challenge Netanyahu with a serious peace plan that could put the Israeli prime minister on the hot seat at home and around the world. Instead he handed the prime minister a “get out of jail free and go build more settlements” card thanks to a venomous attack that even the Israeli peace camp denounced.
Netanyahu will piously continue pledging his desire for peace while bulldozing the West Bank because he knows the more he stalls and builds the less land there will be for a Palestinian state.
Nahum Barnea, a leading Israeli analyst, writes the peace process “is off the table. The gap between the parties is too big; the internal forces opposing concessions are too strong. What we are left with is a battlefield between an Israeli government which will forever stick to the status quo and a desperate Palestinian Authority which is fighting it, with the world’s growing support. It’s a recipe for an explosion.”
Some of Abbas’ defenders said he may have been standing in Manhattan but he was speaking to Ramallah and Nablus and Gaza last Friday. The extreme rhetoric was to show he could be as tough on Israel as Hamas, whose popularity in the West Bank soared after this summer’s fighting, they insist, but underneath he is still the same moderate who eschews violence and wants to negotiate a two-state agreement.
He managed to keep that a well-protected secret when he came to New York. It is a dangerous gamble that could explode, literally. His inflammatory rhetoric could easily be taken by the Palestinian street as a call to arms and a third intifada. In so publicly venting his anger, hatred and frustration, he made peace more inaccessible and violence more likely.
And Netanyahu, once again playing the self-serving local politician instead of statesman, did his part to make that explosion almost inevitable.