April 23, 2014

If Israel has a Plan B, let's hear it.

Many Israelis seem pleased that the second shoe has now dropped on the unlikely U.S.-led effort to bridge old and new gaps between Israelis and Palestinians. Now, Israeli Economy Minister Naftali Bennett has even mocked Mahmoud Abbas' threat to dissolve the Palestinian Authority. 

If the leaders of Israel's governing coalition truly appreciated the degree to which a credible and sustainable Palestinian entity is in their national interest, as they often acknowledge at least rhetorically, they might be less triumphant and superior at this moment, or at any moment. And they would be more concerned with how to bolster Abbas, rather than forcing Washington to drag them kicking and screaming at each turn.

Whatever positive steps Israel has taken of late, much energy has also been spent in ways that obviously undermine Abbas and boost his Hamas rivals. Over the past few years, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has continued expansion and proliferation of West Bank settlements, even into areas generally accepted as part of a future Palestinian state. He has negotiated truces with Hamas and released hundreds of Hamas fighters without complaining to Washington.

Netanyahu alternately denies that Abbas has the legitimacy or capacity to deliver on any agreements -- because after all, Hamas and not Abbas controls Gaza -- and condemns Abbas whenever he makes an effort to coordinate with Hamas and forge a unified Palestinian front. 

If Abbas leaves the scene, with or without the Palestinian Authority, Israel will have to invent one. And it is unlikely to get as good an interlocutor as it has right now. 

If Israelis, and Netanyahu, are OK with this state of affairs, then so be it. But the notion of a tangible, sustainable peace WITHOUT a reliable Palestinian partner, or of waiting for a BETTER Palestinian partner to emerge someday -- as though any kind of real status quo could possibly hold in the meantime -- seems absurd.

If there is an alternative to the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, let's hear it (of course, several other options were tried before). Deriving political benefit and scoring rhetorical points off the flaws and failings of Mahmoud Abbas and other moderate Palestinian leaders is no way to build or maintain the possibility for an eventual peace. And yet, this is what Netanyahu's government has been doing all along. Or do they expect two million-plus Palestinians to just ride off into the sunset?

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