Obama met yesterday with Netanyahu and Abbas separately, and then with the two together. (Foreign Minister Lieberman and Defense Minister Barak accompanied Netanyahu.)
What was accomplished? Shum devar. Effes. Nothing.
I feel as if we’ve been around this track a dozen times already.
Netanyahu came out of the meeting saying that the Palestinians had dropped pre-conditions, and now discussions centered on establishing a framework for negotiations. But that’s not exactly what Abbas was saying after the meeting, when he declared, “We demanded that the Israeli side fulfill its commitment on settlements, including natural growth.”
Sort of a hedge, perhaps, for he didn’t exactly say he won’t sit down with Israel until that “commitment” is fulfilled. Although he did speak about the need to base negotiations on recognition of “the need to withdraw to the 1967 borders and end the occupation.” It’s anyone’s guess how he’ll proceed. What is clear is that the Palestinians have not been the winners on this issue: Netanyahu has not budged.
Commentators have noted that in his comments Obama referred to the need for Israel to “restrain” activity in the settlements, rather than calling for a “halt” to activity as he has done before.
There are, undoubtedly, several reasons why Netanyahu is holding tight — reasons beyond the obvious, such as the stance of his own right flank. We are being pressured unreasonably — including via the excoriation of the Goldstone report. This doesn’t make us more compliant, rather, it puts our collective backs up and makes us more prepared to defend our rights. And there is the recognition that holding fast is working — as we’ve seen above. This enhances motivation to be strong, as well.
Additionally, it is clear to Netanyahu that further concessions would be futile, as there will be no compromise from the PA. So, here once again we will be saved by our eternally intransigent enemy. Who knows what Netanyahu might have agreed to if he anticipated a reasonable and peace-seeking party about to face us across the table.
But eternally intransigent is precisely what the PA is. Please see Barry Rubin’s piece, “Meet the next Palestinian leader.”
“The contemporary narrative is that the Palestinian leaders yearn for a state, an end to the conflict, and peace, while the failure to achieve these can be blamed on Israel. Yet even the slightest real examination shows the exact opposite is true.
“This point is only underlined by looking at the current candidate for next leader, Muhammad Ghaneim, often known as Abu Mahir. Of all those who might credibly have been considered for the leadership of Fatah – and hence of the PLO and Palestinian Authority (PA) – he is probably the most hardline.”
Ghaneim is for “struggle until victory,” where victory would be best defined as Israel’s destruction, not a “two state solution.”
It was revealed in a Wolf Blitzer interview with Netanyahu on CNN that Obama has apparently assured the Palestinians that negotiations would pick up from where Olmert and Abbas left them. (Thanks, Winkie)
This is the danger of reaching too far in discussions, even if no agreement is reached: The world expects this of us every time, even though there is no legal grounding for it. I don’t see where Obama has the right to make such a commitment for us.
Netanyahu’s answer was just fine in my book: The last government talked for three years, but there were no agreements (i.e., nothing that was discussed is legally binding). So, OK, we’ll talk. The Palestinians can say what they think. But I know what the mandate from my people is.
Netanyahu also said in that interview that Palestinian refusal to recognize Israel’s right to exist as the Jewish state is the biggest stumbling block to peace. And he focused, as he almost always does, on the dangers of the Iran and the responsibility of the world to confront this, and soon.
Yesterday Obama rather lost his temper, telling both Israel and the PA that is was enough already, and we had to get with it and start making peace. He has now given us and the Palestinians three weeks to come up with answers that will permit negotiations to resume. Excuse me?
One might have hoped that he was at last getting it — perceiving the impossibility of the goals he had set, the irrationality of the expectations. But one would have been mistaken to hope this. For today he’s right out there, pushing that Palestinian narrative.
Today Obama addressed the UN General Assembly. And in the course of his talk, he declared:
“[the U.S.] does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements…
“The goal is clear: two states living side by side in peace and security — a Jewish State of Israel, with true security for all Israelis; and a viable, independent Palestinian state with contiguous territory that ends the occupation that began in 1967…”
Could we have expected anything else?
I cannot let this pass without a very brief review of the historical and legal situation, which indicates precisely how weak is the ground upon which Obama stands with this statement.
 “Occupation” occurs when one sovereign state moves into the territory of another sovereign state. This is simply not the case here. Judea and Samaria are simply an unclaimed part of the 1922 Mandate for Palestine, which promised a Jewish homeland (and was to encourage Jewish settlement!) from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean. This was written into international law and has never been superseded.
 The pre-’67 line, called the Green Line, is just an armistice line. It is not a border and was never intended to be one. In fact, the armistice agreement with Jordan specifically indicated that this line would not prejudice future negotiations on a final border.
 SC Resolution 242, after the Six Day War in ’67, did not require Israel to return to the Green Line, which it acknowledged would likely provide borders that were not secure. What is more, the final borders were to be part of negotiations package that offered Israel recognition and security. And these negotiations were expected to be with the Arab states with which Israel had just completed the war. The Palestinian people and a Palestinian state were not mentioned at all. Surprise!
 Oslo agreements did declare settlement activity illegal. Even the road map only talks about settlements built after 2001 and not approved, which had to be taken down, and restrictions on further building in existing settlements (with the provisos reached in understandings with former US administrations). The road map does not say the settlements are illegal and does not make the assumption that everything beyond the Green Line is Palestinian land.
But the American president makes this assumption because the Palestinians and their supporters have promoted this narrative so frequently that it’s believed now, and because this is the direction in which Obama chooses to tilt.
Please, acquaint yourself with this information — seek more from me if you need it. Setting the record straight is of paramount importance.
I am considerably disappointed in Netanyahu’s response to Obama’s speech. I know he’s playing the game, but did he have to be so enthusiastic? He commended the speech for referring to Israel as a Jewish state, and for calling for negotiations without pre-conditions. But he ignored this very major point about our right to be in the land.
Here’s what the Washington Post had to say about the three-way meeting yesterday:
“[It] fell well short of the administration’s hopes…
“Obama had wanted to announce agreement on the opening of talks on the creation of a Palestinian state, with a deadline of two years…
“What Mr. Obama oversaw, instead, was little more than a photo opportunity with the two leaders – who continue to disagree with each other and with the Obama administration over the terms of the talks.”
The gap between what Obama hoped for and what actually happened, says the Post, expresses “the miscalculations the president and his team have made.” For Obama and his aides made the assumption (an audacious and very typical assumption, I will note) that Israel and Arab states would welcome an aggressive effort by the new US president to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace.
“As a practical matter, that hasn’t proved true.” How about that!
And the Post also said this:
“…the administration also concluded, wrongly, that obtaining an unconditional Israeli settlement freeze was an essential first step. In fact settlements are no longer a strategic obstacle to peace; as a practical matter, most of the construction is in areas that will not be part of a Palestinian state.”
So how come the Post, a left-wing and pro-Palestinian paper, knows that everything beyond the Green Line doesn’t belong to the Palestinians, while Obama is assuming it does?
Although I must note that the phrase “no longer” is incorrect. The settlements were NEVER a strategic obstacle to peace.
One other comment here, of only passing interest, on the three-way meeting yesterday: It ended with a reluctant handshake between Netanyahu and Abbas. This, of course, echoes the 1993 handshake on the White House lawn during which Prime Minister Rabin’s distaste clearly showed as he shook Arafat’s hand. I have been given to understand that Rahm Emanuel, who was connected to Peace Now, was the “inspiration,” such as it was, for this handshake. It is a coincidence that Emanuel is behind the scenes again? Maybe.