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July 30, 2010: Yes, But

November 4, 2010

It’s nothing but political theater that we’re witnessing, but theater with heavy implications.
 
Setting the scene:
 
Netanyahu has been grandly announcing to the world, “We’re ready.  We’ll begin negotiations with the PA tomorrow, without preconditions.”  This has felt more than a bit cavalier to me (I wince inwardly at his demonstrated eagerness), but I see our prime minister walking a tight rope.  He believes it important that the world see Israel as the willing partner.
 
It has been Abbas who has been obstructionist — refusing to come to the table unless Israel first agreed to certain by now well-known parameters, and realizing, surely, that we would never agree.  This man really really doesn’t want to negotiate.  I mean really: the talks hold out the promise only of major tsuris (real trouble) for him.  But he has been trying to structure it so that it’s Israel’s fault, since we won’t agree to some perfectly reasonable things — such as all the land beyond the ’67 line being Palestinian land.  If we don’t agree upfront, he argues, it’s pointless to sit at the table because the talks will go nowhere, and they want the talks to genuinely progress.
 
Anyone with half an eye (half an eye?) can see that the PA leaders don’t want to negotiate a compromise settlement at all.  Their maximalist demands remain and they simply want us to sign on to them.  Is Obama (or the EU for that matter) lacking that half an eye?  Or does it just suit his political agenda to ignore the obvious?
 
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And so, enter Obama from stage left.  He had been courting the PA so effusively that had he simply strengthened the obstinacy of this group.  Finally it dawned on him that this wasn’t working, and he switched tactics.  Be clear: it’s only tactics, not his ultimate goal or his underlying attitude that changed.  He began publicly courting Israel in a love fest.  Great theater.
 
And, for the first time, he began applying real pressure on Abbas, with regard to finally coming to the table.
 
Note that he hadn’t pressured Abbas to stop incitement — something he was committed to attending to.  And he was still making nice to the PA with regard to a change in the status of the PA/PLO mission that now permitted a flying of the flag in Washington DC.  This was a reflection of closer relations between the PA and the US, a State Department spokesman said.  Huh?  What it represented was a step towards PA statehood, perhaps a psychological step or an inducement.
 
If you don’t negotiate, said Obama, I can’t promise to help you found your state.  Implicit here is the PA threat to found that state unilaterally. At least try, it seems Obama was saying, and then we’ll see what happens next.
 
On top of that, the EU was applying unprecedented pressure on Abbas.
 
Uh oh.  The heat was getting intense. And if Abbas fell out of favor with the EU, some of the European largesse upon which the PA depends might be withdrawn.
 
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Abbas, who had already received sanction from his Fatah party to refrain from negotiations, went to a meeting of Arab League foreign ministers in Cairo yesterday, hoping that this group, as well, would back his refusal to negotiate.  But this is not what happened, in part because of intense pressure also being brought to bear on the Arab states.  They played their role with, I must admit, a certain cleverness.  They didn’t want to appear to be obstructionist — they were warned by Obama (for whatever that is worth) that they’d better not be.
 
So they came out with a position that gave a semblance of supporting negotiations.  See, they’re good guys after all. 
 
However, what they actually delivered was a “Yes, But…” position that was hardly unequivocally supportive of direct negotiations.  Talks have their blessings, they said, in a statement that was deliberately vague.  But it is up to Abbas to decide when to start those talks and under what conditions.
 
Cute, no? 
 
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At this point, Abbas is saying nothing has changed, and he’s holding out for those same parameters.  The question is whether he can hold on, or, now that the Arab League has given a tentative nod, he will ultimately cave and come to the table.
 
He knows that his Fatah party thinks he shouldn’t negotiate directly.  Additionally, Hamas has come out with a statement condemning movement towards those talks.  And we should not minimize the effect that Hamas has on the thinking in the street — this radical terrorist group actually sets the tone of political discourse in the PA areas.  Abbas’s fear is being branded a traitor, if he sits with a Netanyahu administration and then makes any concessions.  He’s got reasons for his reluctance.
 
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I’m reading some predictions that Abbas will agree to negotiate by the beginning of September. But something else must be considered: The end of September marks the end of the 10-month freeze on construction.  As one of his preconditions, Abbas has demanded that this freeze be extended everywhere including Jerusalem.  Netanyahu has pledged that the freeze will not be extended, and it would be difficult to overestimate the fury likely to ensue within his own coalition and within the nationalist community here, should he renege on this pledge.  Just as Abbas is afraid of the anger in the street, it is possible that Netanyahu’s hands may be tied to some degree with regard to how much latitude he has here if he wishes to sustain his coalition.
 
What we may be looking at are mutually exclusive political constraints that preclude negotiations at this time.  We’ll have to wait for the next act, mindful that things can change in an instant.  But I continue to ponder precisely what it is Obama thinks he’s doing and imagines he can achieve (that would accrue to his political benefit).
 
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A comedy interlude here: There was a big hullabaloo with regard to something Haim Ramon (Kadima) is alleged to have said to PA chief negotiator Saeb Erekat at the American Colony Hotel, earlier this month:  Don’t agree to negotiations, a witness claims Ramon — who was acting like an advisor — said, “because Bibi won’t agree to anything.”
 
Both Erekat and Kadima are denying this discussion took place, which, of course, does not mean that it necessarily did not.   There is one sentence attributed to Ramon that I consider particularly enlightening (if, indeed, he said it):  “There is no way the prime minister of Israel would agree to accept 100,000 to 2000,000 Palestinian refugees.”
 
Well, why in hell SHOULD we accept these so-called refugees, who are likely to be highly radicalized (thanks to UNRWA policies)?  If there were to be a Palestinian state, it is there that these people would belong. Acceptance signals a token acknowledgment that the refugee situation (the “Nakba”) was our fault, and not the fault of the Arabs who attacked us. 
 
And why does someone significant to the Kadima party think we should do this?
 
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Of course, the whole issue of “right of return” is non-negotiable for Abbas, and one of the reasons he won’t come to the table.  This is a no-win situation for him.
 
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This allows me to turn to an excellent article by Sol Stern on that very issue of the “Nakba” and how Arab obsession with it is the stumbling block to peace.  It touches a good many important points:
 
http://www.city-journal.org/2010/20_3_nakba.html< br /> 
(Thanks Craig K.)
 
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