Hillary Clinton and Bibi Netanyahu are shown all smiles today at the Sharm el Sheikh dog and pony show, in which Israel and the PA are attempting, with the intercession of various powers and allies like the U.S. Egypt, and Jordan, not to completely torpedo the chances of peace for the next five or ten years. Yes, you can tell from my tone that I’m extremely skeptical.
First, you have the settlement freeze issue. Bibi’s not going to extend it and Abbas claims he’ll walk out if he doesn’t. But even if they overcome this biggie looming in the next two weeks (the deadline is September 26th), they’ve got to get down to tachliss sometime. And man, that won’t be easy.
But the really egregious passage in today’s N.Y. Times report on the talks revealed just how clueless the American negotiators are:
Mrs. Clinton said she believed the two sides could find a creative solution to the impasse – steps that would allow the Palestinians to accept less than a full extension of the moratorium or could enable Mr. Netanyahu to sell an extension to his domestic constituency.
Among the options, American officials said, would be Palestinian recognition of Israel as the Jewish homeland..
Why, sure…the Palestinians will agree to this in a heartbeat. Something not even all Jews agree with by the way. And while we’re at it why don’t we demand that Israel recognize Palestine as a Muslim nation as well?
Yes, they’ll fudge things by using the term “Jewish homeland” rather than “Jewish nation,” assuming the Palestinians can agree to the vaguer term homeland. But really, I have a much more fair formulation: let the Palestinians and Israeli agree together that Israel is a homeland for its Jewish AND Arab citizens. First, it clearly IS. Second, you simply cannot demand of the PA that it recognize Israel as a Jewish homeland while asking that it ignore the fact that there are 1-million Israeli Arab citizens for whom this state is their homeland. The families of many of them predate the settlement of most Israeli Jews in this land. So what does that make them? Chopped-liver?
There is an air of delusion in these talks. Granted that George Mitchell and perhaps even Hillary have the best of intentions and perhaps even the skill to pull this off. But when you begin with premises like the one outlined above, it does make you wonder what they could be thinking. Further, when they can be seen grasping at straws like this one, it makes you realize just how far apart both sides are and how impossible it will likely be to bridge those differences.
As far as I’m concerned, the ethnic definition of Israel or Palestine is something that is besides the point. Why should recognizing Israel as Jewish even be part of the negotiations? Yes, perhaps you reassure Israeli Jews to an extent if you get Palestinians to concede on this point. But are the Americans even thinking about the unease with which this will be greeted by Israeli Palestinians AND those in the PA negotiating this deal? The fact that they are grasping at irrelevancies is not a good sign.
One thing that is a good sign is that Mitchell flies afterward to Syria in an effort to sound out the parties about advancing Israel-Syria peace talks. Given the saber-rattling on the northern border in the past few weeks, any such meetings can only be for the good. The key is whether Israel is serious about peace with Syria. Assad has already signalled his willingness to sue for peace as long as Israel returns the Golan. It is Israel that has dithered, commenced a few wars in the interim, etc. It’s up to Bibi and his far-right coalition. As I wrote above, I’m dubious that he either can or wants to pull this off. But who knows, if Obama pushes hard enough (unlikely I realize), a miracle might happen.