I do so love it when Israeli political figures seek to appear to offer Palestinian leaders a leg up, only to stab them in the back as they’re doing it. Haaretz reports today that Bibi Netanyahu has offered a vague formula for a settlement freeze that has, as far as I can tell, no provision for duration and only refers to construction on government land. This, of course, is supposed to mark Bibi as a generous fellow willing to lend a hand to his Palestinian interlocutor.
Haaretz notes that by far most settlement building is carried out by private companies and/or on private land. So the gesture is quite an empty one. It allows Bibi once again to pretend that he’s a good guy doing his all for peace, all the while winking as he pulls the wool over everyone’s eyes. The only problem is that we’ve seen this magic act before and it’s not fooling Palestinians or anyone else.
Then comes this comment, which refers to the Colombian foreign minister who is trying to broker direct talks between Israel and the PA:
Abbas told Holguin that he did not oppose a resumption of negotiations with Israel, but Netanyahu would have to commit to certain steps regarding settlement construction, even if only a symbolic gesture that would let Abbas present it to the Palestinian public as an accomplishment.
There are two ways to read this: either the Israeli official who said this to Barak Ravid is incredibly tone-deaf and unintentionally created the image of Abbas as an Israeli stooge; or the official is much slyer than that and wishes to do two things–make Bibi smell like a rose while cutting Abbas down to size. Whatever the ultimate meaning, it undermines Abbas profoundly both among Israelis and Palestinians.
We know from the Palestine Papers published by Al Jazeera, that the PA were patsies in the face of Israeli and U.S. pressure. They were willing to sell their birthright for 30 silver coins (or less). So portraying Abbas as weak and spineless already fits what many think about him. So the fact that Israel seeks to reinforce the notion can only mean that Israel really doesn’t want him to succeed ultimately.
That may explain why Bibi was so willing to do a deal with Hamas. He knows neither he nor any Israeli will ever seriously negotiate with Hamas over anything more serious than a prisoner exchange. So building up Hamas, at the expense of the PA, is a grand strategy. Not to mention that Abbas has deliberately stuck his finger in Israel’s eye (in Bibi’s view). So the Palestinian is only getting what he deserves.