May 31, 2011

So, Netanyahu won't be making peace. OK?

It is worth recognizing that -- regardless of what's happening on the Palestinian side -- there's basically no chance of any real Israeli-Palestinian negotiations as long as Benjamin Netanyahu is Israel's Prime Minister. Those afraid he'll give away too much can rest assured. The rest of us should just get used to the idea, and let Obama bluff the mirage of a peace plan in order to keep the Europeans from "throwing Israel under the bus" as Republicans like to say.

Everyone who would be engaged in the negotiations (were they ever to resume) understands Israel will never agree to an absolute Palestinian right of return to Israel proper, beyond perhaps a small onetime influx of refugees under the humanitarian banner of family reunification. They also understand that Palestinians will not accept any agreement without some concessions on Jerusalem.

In his address last week to the U.S. Congress, Netanyahu promised that if Mahmoud Abbas were merely to say "I will accept a Jewish state," then: "With those six words, the Israeli people will be prepared to make a far-reaching compromise." This allocution was definitely not part of prior understandings, including the 1993 Oslo Accords, where the Government of Israel already committed itself to significant territorial withdrawals. These Israeli concessions were based primarily on security performance on the ground. 

Even during his own previous term as Prime Minister, in the mid-1990s, Netanyahu never placed such an ideological condition. In the successive interim agreements over the years, the Palestinian side has always recognized Israel's rights as a sovereign state. But now, despite Netanyahu's vocal disdain for any preconditions to resuming the talks that were fairly frequent meetings under the previous two Prime Ministers -- he has added one more pre-condition of his own: The Palestinians must accept that Israel is the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy and centuries of Jewish hope, and the culmination of millennia of persecution. (Funny, Mahmoud, you don't look Jewish...)

If Netanyahu were really interested in negotiations, he would have blocked all settlement expansion months ago and called the Palestinians' bluff. The catch is, Netanyahu has a bluff of his own. 

Netanyahu's goal is to find new reasons not to negotiate, rather than thinking up new ways to incentivize his own citizens as well as the other side to come together. My guess is, a significant minority of American Jews and close to half of the Israeli public will be OK with that. Some will deny or challenge my analysis, but others will be relieved and empowered by it.

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