It’s certainly not beyond the realm of possibility that PA president Mahmoud Abbas, even as he continues to insist that his conditions for entering direct talks have not changed, will ultimately cave in the face of huge US and EU pressure.
But it is no where near certainty yet, even though PM Netanyahu, addressing Likud ministers before the Cabinet meeting yesterday, made a statement about peace talks likely beginning in two weeks.
Netanyahu seems to be working on a hunch, rather than any definitive information. Thus he said, “I think that the international community, at least an important part of it, and certainly the US, expects the Palestinian Authority to put aside the claims, excuses and conditions — and enter into peace talks.”
However, as we witness this unfolding drama, we must keep in mind the broader impact of the pressure that has been exerted by the Obama administration on the PA. I would guess that the Americans calling the shots are fairly oblivious to certain factors at play here.
The Palestinian Arabs are not taking the pressure lightly. In fact, at least in the short term, they are holding tight, rather than agreeing to demands. Hanan Ashwari, a member of the PLO Executive Committee (and the antithesis of a submissive Palestinian Arab woman in any event) came out slugging this week. “The pressure was tantamount to extortion,” she told Al-Quds Al-Arabi in London. “I never saw such pressure on the Palestinians in the history of negotiations with Israel.” With her comments, one begins to feel the tenor of the current US-PA interaction.
There is a question of pride here (and I’ll come back to that in a second). But it seems to me there is also grievous disappointment with Obama in the PA camp, which makes the response more bitter. Remember, the very first international leader Obama called after his inauguration was Mahmoud Abbas. This was followed by a studious courting of the “Muslim World” by the new American president. Can’t blame Abbas for thinking that he had Obama in his pocket. What a shock then, to find that Obama had shifted gears and that it wasn’t so.
But there’s more: The PA cannot afford to appear to be closely allied with, or doing the bidding of, the Americans. We saw this not long ago in another context. The Americans had been investing large sums of money in building up the PA security forces. General Keith Dayton was sent to head up this operation and for a time was involved in every aspect of the program. So much was this the case, that the security forces became unofficially known as “Dayton’s troops.” In response, first the PA told the Americans, give us money, but stay out of planning. Now Dayton is gone from the program.
For the PA, the problem with “Dayton’s troops” was that Hamas utilized it as a way to attack Fatah in the street: the charge was that its leaders were traitors who do the bidding of the Americans and do not represent the best interests of the Palestinian people.
All the more so is this the case here. Abbas has said it doesn’t serve the interests of the Palestinian people to sit down in face to face negotiations unless Israel has already agreed to return to ’67 lines, etc. etc. Never mind whether this really does serve the interests of the “Palestinian people,” Abbas is on public record here.
Then along comes Obama, saying that he doesn’t care what Abbas has stipulated, he doesn’t believe preconditions are necessary, and Abbas better sit down at the table now or else.
Well, he’s causing Abbas to lose face, which is a major thing in Arab culture and one very big reason why he cannot agree to negotiate now — even if he finds a way to do so later. But Obama has also strengthened Hamas in the street. In a recent article, Khaled Abu Toameh quoted a PA official thusly: “The pressure on President Abbas undermines the PA’s standing among Palestinians. The Americans and Europeans are making us lose our credibility.”
Should there be PA elections, Hamas is more likely to win. Should there be a terrorist attack, it is more likely to be celebrated in the street because it shows Palestinian “pride” and “power.” Should negotiations actually take place, Abbas would be even more obstinate than might otherwise have been expected, in order to show he doesn’t cave for the Americans. Should it happen (it won’t) that Abbas should come to an agreement with us, it would be more difficult for him to sell it in the street.
So what has Obama accomplished?
Saeb Erekat is claiming that some weeks ago the PA gave Mitchell a full PA plan for peace, but has not received a response from Israel. Netanyahu has said he received no such proposal.
It’s not clear where Netanyahu got his estimate of “two weeks.” Other rumors suggest talks might start after Ramadan, which would be mid-September. And it is at about the same time — September 16 — that the foreign ministers of the Arab League are due to meet again.
Of course, this is just a week before the all-important freeze on construction is due to end. Our government has adamantly and consistently declared that this freeze will not be extended. But now we have something a tad closer to the truth:
Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon just made a statement regarding the fact that when the freeze is over this doesn’t mean there will be a massive building boom. Instead construction would be aimed at maintaining “normal life.” Uh oh. Been there, done that. What is needed for “normal life” keeps getting defined down. Normal life should mean that your married children are able to buy a new apartment in the area where you live. Is this, pray tell, what Ayalon means?
Ayalon hasn’t spelled this out, but he says “political, security and foreign affairs” would be factored in when deciding when and where to build. That, he maintains, is what a “responsible government” has to do. Responsible to whom, is the question. This is the Netanyahu administration playing both ends against the middle — denying that there is a freeze extension in an attempt to keep the right wing from being up in arms, while instituting something akin to a de facto freeze to keep Obama happy.
Just possibly, the one exception to what Ayalon is describing may be in Jerusalem, where our feisty mayor, Nir Barkat, announced yesterday that permits for building in all parts of the city will continue to be issued. Today 40 more units were approved for Pisgat Ze’ev; after 32 apartments were approved there two weeks ago. Let’s see it continue!
Jerusalem was never supposed to be part of the freeze anyway, but it was de facto frozen. Remember the furor because we announced building in Ramat Shlomo when Biden was here — a furor that implied we weren’t supposed to build there, when, according to original understandings, we were.
A regular reader has just written to ask me if Netanyahu has lost his mind. Sorry that I’m not qualified to make a definitive judgment on this, but I do understand the question.
The issue is the decision Netanyahu has just made to cooperate with the UN inquiry on the flotilla incident (this is separate from the UN Human Rights Council investigation). This is after he had said we did our own inquiry and this was enough, and in face of the UN reputation for nailing us.
It is not a coincidence that the decision was made right after Barak visited with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, who urged this decision. (Some press reports have it that he “demanded” this — which rather puts my back up.) The decision was made after consultation with the inner cabinet o
The argument being advanced is that the government has learned from the Goldstone report, which was so enormously biased — what was learned is that it’s better to have input. Said Netanyahu: “Israel has nothing to hide. Quite the opposite: The State of Israel’s national interest is to ensure that the factual truth on the entire raid incident will be known to the world.”
We are seeking clarification on several matters including the precise authority of the investigating committee, and action to prevent Palestinians from bringing this to the Hague. Decisions still have to be made regarding how much technical material, if any, to turn over to the committee; Netanyahu has said that the soldiers who were involved would not be queried.
The investigating committee will be chaired by former Prime Minister of New Zealand Geoffrey Palmer. with outgoing President of Colombia Alvaro Uribe serving as vice chair. Israel and Turkey will then each have a member participating. Deliberations are to begin on August 10, with a preliminary report expected mid-September.
Time will tell if this was a sane decision. Someone will have to come pick me up from the floor if the findings turn out to be unbiased.