It’s hard to know precisely what, if anything, of substance transpired during the two days of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks which ended today. Some reporters have noted a change in attitude on the part of Mahmoud Abbas, who began the summit with a dour demeanor which, some claim, brightened after his tete a tete with Bibi Netanyahu. According to Al Hayyat (Arabic):
“Well-informed sources said that the atmosphere in the Palestinian delegation, especially around Abbas, changed 180 degrees from the initial tension. The reasons for this are: American assuring the Palestinians that the administration is serious about reaching a solution; and the success of the bilateral meeting between Abu Mazen & Netanyahu, which lasted 90 minutes, in breaking the ice between them and beginning a serious discussion about many of the issues.”
The BBC correspondent covering the talks wrote this tidbit about parsing Bibi’s attitude during the talks:
It offered a good opportunity to ponder on the significance of the last few days, in which we trailed Mr Netanyahu. Did he change? His speeches, his statements, gestures, all suggested a change of heart.
Voice of Israel Radio has a rather tantalizing report that Bibi is convening a cabinet meeting tomorrow at which he will apprise ministers of the “agreements” formulated in D.C. It further reported that the “echoes from Washington are very positive.” I find it interesting that these leaders can meet for two days and already be speaking of “agreements.” I have no idea what this can mean, though it could, I’m told, merely refer to arrangements for the next round of negotiations.
As for Israel finding the developments to be very positive, this can mean one of two things: either Israel is trying to spin the summit and make it appear productive; or Israel has indications that Abbas will not desert the talks when Bibi and Dennis Ross announce their face-saving version of what they will call a settlement freeze extension come September 26th. From Bibi’s vantage, it would be wonderful to know Abbas won’t exit the talks and that Israel can resume building in the major settlement blocs. But how Ross, Obama, et al. will spin this abrogation of the freeze into something positive is a mystery.
Ethan Bronner, after the fact and after much previously published happy talk about how well the summit would go and how much would be accomplished, is finally conceding slightly to the detractors in a piece published today. He let Sam Bahour have his say:
Bahour, a businessman in…Ramallah, said…that the Palestinian business community was mostly divided between those predicting failed talks and those expecting an agreement so lopsided in Israel’s favor as to make a sham of peace.
“We are in for a long, long crisis,” he said.
He also quotes some sharp, but cynical analysis by Alon Pinkas, Israel’s former consul general in N.Y.:
Israel, he wrote, wants only to give the impression of seeking compromise as “a tax being paid to the United States,” but has no plans to give up anything important. He said the only hope would be a solution presented by President Obama.
Bronner inserts one of his characteristic flourishes into this piece in which he quotes an amazingly self-serving statement by an Israeli source without expressing any comment or analysis at all, as if it deserves to be treated as entirely plausible, when it isn’t:
Aides to Mr. Netanyahu have indicated that he proposes placing all the difficult topics on the table at once — settlements, borders, Jerusalem, security, and Palestinian refugees and their descendants — with the two leaders meeting every two weeks. By setting up a framework whereby no single issue exists on its own and all are negotiated at the highest level and in secrecy, he hopes to promote a process in which both sides will yield.
That way, he hopes, when Sept. 26 arrives and limited building resumes, Mr. Abbas will not walk out because settlement building will be only one issue of several he is in the middle of negotiating.
So between now and Sept. 26th, Bibi proposes throwing every major issue on the table and believes so much progress will be made, and Abbas will be so impressed by Bibi’s flexibility that the former will feel so invested in the outcome that he couldn’t possibly walk out. If you believe any of this I have a bridge I want to sell you and some Florida real estate as well.
I’m also amused by the pure gold PR Bibi has managed to spin with speculation by both Bronner and Donald Macintyre that only Bibi can actually make peace because only someone of his impeccable far-right credentials can bring along the rest of the Israeli right to the negotiation table and a peace agreement. Once again, this is happy talk.
Macintyre does add one interesting piece of background information on what he says was a criticial conversation between Bibi and Barack last July:
…What did Benjamin Netanyahu tell Barack Obama in July that convinced the US President that it was worth, first applying fierce pressure on the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to enter direct negotiations with Israel, with a view to achieving a peace deal within a year, and then launching the talks this week in Washington amid such fanfare. The White House has repeatedly made it clear to those who need to know that something was said – but not what it was.
For any of this to be true, Bibi would have to be a combination of Ariel Sharon (Gaza withdrawal), Menachem Begin (Camp David), and DeGaulle (Algeria). Personally, I don’t think he holds a candle to any of ’em. But we’ll see…and may I be proven wrong.