Sen. George Mitchell announced with a flourish the resumption of Israel-Palestine “proximity” talks under the tutelage of the U.S. American Jewish peace groups like Peace Now and J Street have dutifully released statements of support. But alas it’s all a charade. For all the “proximity” the two sides may have they are universes apart on virtually every major issue that divides them. No commentators I have noticed have remarked upon the fact that these talks are in fact a deep regression from previous rounds of talks which, during the Olmert government, were direct and without U.S. mediation. Those talks too were largely ineffectual. But at least the parties had enough trust in each other that they were willing to talk face to face. It is a mark of the mistrust and disdain with which Bibi is suffered by Palestinians that they didn’t even want to shake the guy’s hand, let alone engage in face to face talks.
Just to take one example of bad faith,Bibi Netanyahu had the temerity to reiterate his dead as a doornail demand that the result of final status negotiations must be Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. Of course he doesn’t expect this to happen. But saying so serves two purposes: it shores up support from his farther right supporters who may criticize the very idea of negotiating with Palestinians; and it poisons the negotiations even before they begin, which is certainly one of Bibi’s goals. Let me be as clear as I can: Israel does not want either negotiations or a settlement of the outstanding issues (except perhaps on its own terms, which will never happen).
No one in the Obama administration can really believe these negotiations can work. Pres. Obama is engaging in this game in a vain attempt to salvage his reputation and previously expressed robust commitment to Israeli-Palestinian peace. That commitment has evaporated in the face of Israeli rightist resolve and the loss of domestic political momentum across the board. We now have a situation little better than Dov Weissglas’ shocking past statement that the Sharon government under Pres. Bush had doused the peace process in formaldehyde.
The Palestinians trumpeted a “guarantee” from the Americans that it would be willing to publicly “blame” the party it deemed recalcitrant if negotiations fail at the end of four months. But I read the form of the guarantee and it meant almost nothing to me. Again, it sounds good if you don’t read too closely or deeply. But in truth, even an American denunciation of Israel (will never happen) wouldn’t have much effect short of an American conviction to act forcefully in pursuit of peace and against the ostensible interests of the party deemed recalcitrant.
While it’s true that VP Joe Biden arrived in Israel today ostensibly to reinforce the good news of resumption of peace negotiations, more likely his real purpose was to tighten the bear-hug offered to Bibi regarding a possible Israeli military strike against Iran. In the Biderman Haaretz cartoon, you can see the map of Iran’s nuclear sites which Bibi was using to plot his attack, while various U.S. political luminaries tackle him in order to prevent the Israeli strike. Bibi is forced to concede the obvious and feigns a welcome.
The other image featured here is the tarmac welcome of Biden where protocol duties were fulfilled pointedly by one of Israel’s most extreme hawks, Bogie Yaalon, a former army chief of staff. The message seems clear at least from Israel’s side: we’re on war footing with Iran.
The Arab League provided the framework enabling Mahmoud Abbas to enter into this charade by approving a four-month period of negotiation after which the Arab states would refer the matter to the UN Security Council. The League thus hopes to ratchet up pressure on the U.S. and western allies to deal with this problem once the proximity talks are exhausted.
Given the apparent fact that the U.S. has given up on serious engagement in this issue, I’m dubious that even a referral to the Security Council will move things forward. But what IS true is that the only way to resolve this matter is through direct international intervention.
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- Biden Arrives in Israel on Trip to Restart Peace Talks (nytimes.com)