Current AffairsIsrael

What are they (Netanyahu and Abbas) thinking?

The news in this morning’s paper (April 3, 2014) is all about the imminent collapse of the peace talks being brokered by US Secretary of State John Kerry. The Americans blame both sides for taking steps to sabotage any chance of a deal: the Palestinians for applying to become a signatory to 15 different UN conventions, and Israel for announcing more settlement building. Israel, of course, has also failed to live up to an agreement to release a fourth batch of Palestinian prisoners.

In the past Kerry has said “we can’t want peace more than you do.” And while it may look like the Americans want peace more than either the Israelis or the Palestinians, I don’t think that’s the case.

So what are they thinking?

As much as many Israelis think Kerry and Obama are somehow “pro-Palestinian,” that’s absolute nonsense. They are pro-Israeli, and everything they actually do – from continuing to supply Israel with more military aid than any other country in the world to the way they have been conducting the negotiations for a peace deal is proof. They accepted Netanyahu’s outrageous insistence that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a “Jewish” state (see my blog post on why that’s crazy). They are definitely not “pro-Palestinian.” They are placing equal blame for the expected collapse of the talks on both parties. I’d place more on the Israelis.

Abbas’s thinking is probably pretty simple. He looks at what Israel is prepared to offer with the current right-wing government, and he figures he’ll get a better deal “doing it the hard way.” Yes, it will be tougher and will take a few more years. But they’ve been fighting for a state for over 40 years already, so what does it matter if it takes five or ten more instead of two or three more. The Palestinians have never been better positioned to put real, serious pressure on Israel. As explained in an opinion piece in Haaretz by Bassem Khoury, former economic minister of the PA, Palestine’s “non-member state” status at the UN opens a lot of doors that were previously closed – including the ability to make the applications they just made to various international conventions. More significantly, they can probably join the International Criminal Court in the Hague, and accuse Israel of war crimes. Furthermore, with terrorism at very low levels, Palestinians are no longer seen as “bad guys” by the rest of the world. They are seen as an occupied people engaged in a legitimate fight against Israel. Their resounding win at the UN when they put in the bid for “non-member state” status, by a 2/3 majority, shows most governments of the world support them.

BDS (boycotts, divestment, and sanctions) will only pick up steam if the Palestinians succeed in joining the ICC and getting Israel charged with war crimes.

The pressure on Israel in 3 or 4 years could be immense. The Palestinians may be in a MUCH stronger negotiating position.

So it all makes sense from a Palestinian perspective. But what is Netanyahu thinking?

Netanyahu is not stupid. I think he’s something of a realist. He knows there is no good alternative to the Palestinians having a state. We certainly don’t want a “single state solution.” So why isn’t he trying harder to get a peace deal through?

It could be that he knows any deal that the Palestinians will accept would not get through his cabinet. The government would collapse. For him to form a center-left coalition would never work – his own party would abandon him. So maybe he figures there is no alternative to letting the Palestinians do their thing in the international forums. No alternative to letting the Palestinians take their case to the ICC and try and ramp up BDS. Because if the Palestinians succeed in those efforts, there will be so much pressure on Israel that there will be no choice but to make a deal with the Palestinians, and even the right-wing parties in his government will recognize this. And when that “disaster” happens, Netanyahu wants to be the guy in charge, because he no doubt believes that he’s the one who’ll be able to make sure that Israel gets the best possible deal in any future negotiations. And he wants the historical credit for his “legacy.” I realize some people may say this is an insane idea – because in essence it makes Bibi a “closet supporter” of BDS and the Palestinians going to the UN, but I don’t see any other way to explain his torpedoing the current American efforts. It’s pretty obvious what the Palestinians next step will be, and what will happen to Israel. The days of maintaining the “status quo” of the occupation are going to be over soon.

While I believe it may take that kind of international pressure to bring about a peace deal, I also hope it’s not going to be TOO painful for those of us living here in Israel. But I think we are going to be facing some very difficult times in the next few years. No amount of “hasbara” (propaganda) is going to convince the world we’re the “good guys.”


Barry Leff

Rabbi Barry (Baruch) Leff is a dual Israeli-American business executive, teacher, speaker and writer who divides his time between Israel and the US.

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