Thursday, April 10, 2014

Mistakes all around

Dan Margalit

Those in charge of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations made every possible mistake on Wednesday. On Thursday, they were to meet again under the auspices of the U.S. Special Envoy for Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations Martin Indyk. The peace process can still be salvaged, but the talks have an even more uncertain fate. Negotiations are the lesser evil because a void would ultimately result in a violent confrontation, or as some would call it, an intifada.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry recently voiced some valid criticism on Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel, whose ministry released a tender for a torrent of housing units just when the negotiations had reached a critical juncture. Kerry was not the only one who was outraged by that move. Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Finance Minister Yair Lapid were also highly critical. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may have shared their sentiment but chose to remain silent.

The only problem is that Kerry has ignored the real issue. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has no interest in renewing the talks, under any circumstance. Time and again, he has slashed the tires of the negotiations wagon just as it was about to move. He did that in 2000, when he and his predecessor, Yasser Arafat, rejected then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak's offer at Camp David; he did it again in 2009, when he rejected then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's peace plan. He is doing it again by refusing to recognize the Jewish people's right to self-determination or its right to a sovereign state. Over the past several weeks, he has once again thrown a monkey wrench into the talks, but Kerry has just sat idly by.
Kerry's bias has been amplified by the blunt statements "senior American officials" make every so often. That official is usually Indyk. Indyk has repeatedly lashed out against Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon and Ariel, but not once has he attacked Abbas' people. Indyk has made these statements time and again ever since then U.S. President Bill Clinton sided with Barak in the wake of the failed summit at Camp David.
The Palestinians' conduct cannot be explained away as misguided or erroneous; there is clear malice on their part. If Arafat said Israel was a Jewish state, Abbas can do that, too. But clearly he does not want to. He is a wolf in sheep's clothing. A wolf -- because he has been evasive on the two-state solution -- and a sheep because he has not been orchestrating terrorist attacks. Now he wants to go back to his forte: blackmailing. He wants Israel to approve of his recent decision to join various international organizations, despite this being in violation of the agreement that led to the renewal of the talks last year.
Israel has made things worse by reneging on its pledge to release the fourth group of Arab prisoners. Yes, it had every right not release Israeli Arabs because they were never part of the agreement, but it should have nevertheless released some prisoners to meet its obligations. Ariel's new tenders, as well as Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett's call on Netanyahu to annex settlement blocs are nothing more than demagoguery. What's worse is that they hurt Israel in the U.S. and in Europe.
A long time ago, the predominantly national religious party Habayit Hayehudi, said that despite its opposition to a territorial compromise with the Palestinians, it would let Netanyahu run the negotiations. This would help Israel navigate the troubled diplomatic waters, Bennett said. Some in the Likud share Bennett's view. Bennett and the far Right in the Likud have not delivered on that pledge and Netanyahu, rather than take them to task on this, is perceived as being angry at Kerry and has imposed new sanctions on the Palestinians.
It was a misguided move. Why? Because so long as the Palestinians do not want to negotiate, Israel will get to keep its territorial assets. In the meantime, though, there is no point in hurting average Palestinians in Ramallah and Nablus. Such measures should be used only if -- God forbid -- things turn violent.
But there might be another rabbit to pull out of the hat. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that he would rather call new elections than embrace Kerry's peace plan. Only when Lieberman emerges from his meeting with Kerry in Washington will we know whether he has reverted back to the pro-American, moderate posture he has assumed in recent weeks.

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