'The blame game has already started'

Analysis: Netanyahu says he and Abbas did not come to Washington "to pay blame game where even the winners lose," but the two leaders have already started arguing, albeit politely.

peace talks trio 311 AP (photo credit: Associated Press)
peace talks trio 311 AP
(photo credit: Associated Press)
WASHINGTON – When the ceremonies cease, when the speech-making ends, when the chandeliers in ornate halls are turned off, when Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan’s King Abdullah II go home, and when US President Barack Obama’s attention is diverted elsewhere, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will be left – just the two of them – alone in a room.
And, as the two leaders’ speeches at the ceremony in the State Department’s Benjamin Franklin room on Thursday morning to mark the start of direct negotiations indicated, it is then going to get very, very difficult.
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The day before, at the White House, in the presence of Obama, Mubarak and Abdullah, Netanyahu said, “I did not come here to play a blame game where even the winners lose. I came here to achieve a peace that will bring benefits to all.”
But at the State Department on Thursday, just as the two men were to get down to the proverbial brass tacks, the blame game already started. It was polite, civilized, not overheated, but it started. It wasn’t direct, but it started.
Netanyahu, who spoke in English after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton welcomed the sides to the table, said that an agreement would necessitate mutual concessions.
“Now, this will not be easy. A true peace, a lasting peace, would be achieved only with mutual and painful concessions from both sides – from the Israeli side, from the Palestinian side, from my side, and from your side,” he said.
Abbas, speaking in Arabic, made no mention of the need for Palestinian concessions. Instead, he said that the parameters of an agreement need not be rediscovered, and that “we are not starting from scratch.”
Netanyahu reiterated what he said at his Bar-Ilan University speech a year ago, that the two foundations of peace are Palestinian recognition of Israel’s legitimacy, and Israeli security.
Just as the Palestinians expect Israel to recognize a Palestinian state as “the nation state of the Palestinian people, we expect you to recognize Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people.”
Netanyahu added that “mutual recognition between us is indispensable to clarifying to our people that the conflict between us is over.”
Abbas’s response: The Palestinians already recognized Israel once, on September 9, 1993, when Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat signed a document of mutual recognition.
His subtext: How many times do we have to recognize you, to which Israel’s pat reply is that that document was never properly ratified by the Palestinian institutions.
Our intentions are genuine, Abbas said.
We want to reach an “end of conflict.”
As far as security is concerned, Netanyahu said that Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s terrorist attacks have underscored how critical the security element is for Israel.
“Security is the foundation of peace.” he said. “Without it, peace will unravel. With it, peace can be stable and enduring.”
Security, Abbas countered, is vital for both sides, and “we cannot allow for anyone to do anything that would undermine your security and our security.” The young Palestinian security apparatus is being built, and “doing what is expected.”
Indeed, said Abbas – who again condemned this week’s terrorist attacks – the Palestinian security apparatus has found the car used in the attack near Hebron, and arrested those who sold and bought the car.
“And we will continue all our effort to take security measures in order to find the perpetrators,” he said. You see, Abbas seemed to be saying, we are taking steps.
Don’t lecture us about security.
So there it is, the talks did not even start, and the sides were arguing – point, counter- point – albeit very civilly.
If that is what takes place in front of the camera, one can only imagine what the dynamic will be during the direct talks behind closed doors.
At the very least, however, now there is some kind of dynamic.