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Photo: Reuters
Chief negotiators Tzipi Livni and Saeb Erekat
Photo: Reuters
Ron Ben-Yishai
Now is not time to go back to negotiating table
The Palestinians need to regain their equilibrium after their recent diplomatic coup, and Israel must pay the price for handing them that victory.
It is too early to declare pronounce the death of any possibility that talks between Israel and the Palestinians will be extended, but it isn't important. In the current circumstances, born out of the events of the last 48 hours, there is no point in continuing negotiations that will only fall apart in the near future, and which in any case wouldn't yield any significant results. The Palestinian position has undergone what appears to be a radicalization, ensuring that the talks would be a predictable failure.

 

 

There are three main reasons for this Palestinian intransigence. Firstly, there is justifiable anger at Israel's failure to make good on its commitment to free the fourth group of Palestinian prisoners. Israel never committed to freeing Israeli Arab terrorists, but it did promise to release another, final batch of 26 prisoners, thereby meeting a Palestinian precondition for restarting peace negotiations last July. The publication of tenders for homes in the disputed Har Homa and Gilo neighborhoods of Jerusalem were an unnecessary provocation.

 

The second reason is all about internal Palestinian politics. The popularity of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah party has been on the wane recently, not only in comparison to arch-rivals Hamas, but also as Fatah's former Gaza strongman Mohammed Dahlan and his supporters attempt to gnaw away at Abbas' base, presenting Dahlan as a viable alternative for the Palestinian leadership. The crisis in talks with Israel was a chance for Abbas and Fatah to display some ideological resolve, flex their muscles, and regain popularity almost overnight. Even Hamas was forced to laud Abbas.

 

But the third reason for Abbas and the Palestinian leadership's newfound inflexibility is also the most important, and that is power, or, more accurately, being drunk with power. Ramallah saw how shaken Benjamin Netanyahu and the US administration were after Abbas signed more than a dozen international conventions. The Palestinians came to some conclusions, and 25 hours later submitted a long list of radical demands. It is also safe to assume that the fact that Israel had dispatched its chief negotiator, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, to talk to her Palestinian counterpart Saeb Erekat also contributed to this radicalization.

 

The inebriation with power stems from a belief that the Israeli and US governments dread a wholesale Palestinian bid for recognition via the UN, a unilateral move that could result in recognition of a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders. The Palestinians have convinced themselves that they have found the magic button to quell Israel, just as the international community quelled the apartheid regime in South Africa, effectively erasing it from the face of the Earth.

 

The new Palestinian modus operandi is a full-on diplomatic push for international recognition of statehood, combined with a "light" intifada in the form of a restrained popular uprising in the West Bank. In other words, there will be the selective use of fire arms, a lot of protests and riots, some stone-throwing and firebombs, but no full-fledged terrorism that could harm the Palestinian cause, as it did a decade ago.

 

The Palestinians have also found what they believe to be their doomsday device - signing onto the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. This, they believe, will allow them to try Israelis as war criminals in The Hague.

 

And so the Palestinians are allowing themselves to be a little flushed with success. But it must be noted, sadly, that Israel gave them this victory. The Palestinians can easily abrogate past commitments by claiming that it is purely in retaliation to Israeli actions. Housing Minister Uri Ariel, together with Netanyahu, can take the credit for the current situation.

 

But there is no point crying over spilt milk. Both sides, but mostly the Palestinians, are currently dizzy from recent events, and until everyone regains some degree of level-headedness, there is no point in returning to the table. As long as Abbas and the Fatah leadership are drunk with power and believe that they have the key to achieving their heart's desire without any significant concessions, and as long as they are still riding high on the current wave of Palestinian euphoria, there is no chance that talks will lead to anything concrete.

 

So it is up to Israel to work together with the US to find a way to help the Palestinians regain their equilibrium. Netanyahu must find common ground with the US, even at a political and diplomatic price, or announce he is willing to make additional prisoner releases beyond the fourth tranche. (These are things he has already previously mentioned.)

 

Furthermore, Israel must express a willingness to freeze settlement construction, thereby cooperating with the US and the EU in the international arena. The Palestinians need to understand beyond a shadow of a doubt that the international community will not give them what they want, even if it means President Obama using his veto power in the UN Security Council. The Israeli concessions can be seen as a price we must pay for our unnecessary provocation regarding ongoing settlement construction and the recently scuppered prisoner release.

 

Israel must also sap the Palestinians' determination to petition The Hague. It seems that Abbas' desire to drag Israelis through the international courts is stronger even than his desire for recognition of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. He knows his friends in the Fatah leadership and on the Palestinian street would enjoy seeing Israeli military officers and politicians arrested one after another in airports around the world. There is nothing like making Israel suffer for raising spirits among the Palestinian population and strengthen support for the leadership.

 

Therefore, Jerusalem must make clear to Abbas and his people that any suits filed in The Hague will be met by parallel steps by Israel and its allies. While Israel is not a signatory to the Rome Statute, its leading legal minds must be put to building a formula that allows Israel to return the favor and take Abbas and Fatah officials to court for years of planning murderous terror attacks, or for sending others to do so on their behalf.

 

There are many Palestinians who fit that bill, and the Palestinian leadership will have to take this into account. The issue of The Hague is of the utmost importance; for as long as the Palestinians think they can put Israel and its political and military echelons in the dock, they will be in no mood to compromise and only the complete subjugation of Israel will satisfy them.

 

It is reasonable, therefore, to seek a time out from the Americans, in which both sides can calm down and reassess what they have to win and lose if the status quo continues. There will be time later to decide if there is any point in renewing peace talks, or if each side would be better served by going its own way. As things stand, it would be wrong to renew negotiations, even if the Palestinians do abandon their utopian demands and the Americans do indeed free Jonathan Pollard.

 


First published: 04.04.14, 00:51
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