Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Abbas should call Israel's bluff and push for peace talks, Jerusalem Post column
Abbas should call Israel's bluff and push for peace talks
By Ray Hanania
It’s too easy for members of Israel’s government to call for peace talks to resume. From one side of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s mouth, he says he wants peace. From the other, he says he won’t freeze settlements.
They are not compatible statements, but Netanyahu knows that each message has a
different intended audience. Not freezing settlements is intended to provoke Palestinians into their typical rejectionism. The Palestinians have a button that Israelis can easily push to get the reaction they want, the same reaction every time.
Netanyahu also knows that constantly calling for peace is exactly what American leaders want to hear, easing the pressure off President Barack Obama. The US, which has a multibillion-dollar annual investment in Israel and politicians who pander to pro-Israel votes during biannual elections, doesn’t really care about the problems of the Middle East conflict, so freezing or not freezing settlements is a non-issue to most Americans.
Do Netanyahu and most Israelis want peace? The only way to find out is to push them into a corner from which they can’t escape. But you can’t do that when you are in your own corner, drawing lines around yourself and babbling meaningless rhetoric as the world continues to collapse around you.
Instead of issuing unenforceable preconditions on Israel, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas should go to the peace table and play the cards he has. Talk. But this time, do what his predecessor the late president Yasser Arafat failed to do. Partner peace talks with public relations. When they collapse, as they might, make sure you get your story out first before Israel, not three years later as Arafat did in futility during the siege of the Mukata and the confrontation years with Netanyahu’s party predecessor Ariel Sharon.
WHAT’S THE worst that can happen? Peace talks collapse and the region nose-dives into militant-driven violence, terrorism and excessive, heavy-handed military responses from the IDF. Or, just maybe, peace talks progress and Netanyahu, given something to take back to Israel’s increasingly intransigent population, shows them peace might work and restoring hope.
Peace is the only answer that can move Israelis and Palestinians away from the precipice where they have debka’d during the past 62 years. Not only are Israelis and Palestinians bad dancers, they are terrible at reading road maps. But only Israel has the clout.
Israelis will not willingly budge from their rejection of compromise with the Palestinians. It’s been too easy for them over the years. The Palestinians demand “all or nothing” and constantly end up with nothing, while the Israelis take whatever they can get.
A peace agreement is the only way to freeze Israel’s settlement expansions around Jerusalem.
The Israeli settlements didn’t just appear because some ingenuous Israeli developed a bullet-proof strategy to build them, but because Palestinians always said “no,” demanding everything and always ending up with nothing. Israel had carte blanche to take what it wanted. And it did. Who wouldn’t?
IN RETURNING to the peace table despite Israel’s hard-line stance, Abbas can also give some strength back to the weakened President Obama, whose powerful shouts of peace sound more like distant whispers these days. If Obama can show some progress in the Middle East, he just might be able to leverage that to pressure Israel’s government to do more, which it should, and add tenor to his declarations.
But with Abbas saying “no,” and with Netanyahu’s clever double-talk to preserve his right-wing coalition, Obama can’t do much except tell Americans he will focus his attention elsewhere.
The Palestinians will never have a stronger American ally than Obama. Every other Democratic alternative, including Hillary Clinton, would move the table back into Israel’s corner. Politically, there is no advantage to confronting Israel in the United States.
Every Republican challenger, like Mike Huckabee, will be fawning all over Israel during repeated visits, telling the Israelis everything they want to hear, from bashing the Goldstone Report as the bible of anti-Semitism to promising that America will always stand by Israel’s side – well, as long as there are Jews in America who can vote. There is neither virginity in American politics nor innocence.
My guess is Abbas will make the wrong choice, again, and waste his time trying to smooth things over with the uncompromising Hamas, presumably to strengthen his own weak government. Only Hamas can play the game of double-talk better than Netanyahu. And there is nothing anyone could do to change Hamas, which is uncompromising by faith.
The only Palestinian leader giving Abbas good advice is his prime minister, Salam Fayyad. But Fayyad’s role has been relegated to that of an entertainer as he travels the country and the world telling audiences what they need to hear while failing with his own people.
The truth is Israel holds all the cards. If Israel wanted to end the conflict it could. But with Israelis becoming increasingly satisfied with the status quo – controlling everything with only “minor” losses of life – there is little incentive to push them to do the right thing.
If Abbas could stop being predictable and surprise Israelis and the US, maybe he could regain the momentum and reignite a peace process that Israel cannot reject.
What do Abbas and the Palestinians have left to lose that they haven’t already lost?
Named Best Ethnic Columnist in America by New America Media, the writer is a Palestinian-American columnist and peace activist. He can be reached at www.YallaPeace.com