Addressing barriers to peace
The speeches by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to the UN General Assembly, just hours apart, left the pundits ruminating this week about where to place blame for the moribund peace process. While some singled out one party, others were more helpful and provided a more complete picture of the diplomatic landscape.
In a series for Ynet, Ron Ben-Yishai lists a few myths that he says the Israeli government uses to put off negotiations. They include: the Arab Spring makes the region unstable, Abbas is a worthless leader, Palestinians won’t launch a third intifada, the economic situation in the West Bank has never been better and the Fatah-Hamas division makes an agreement impossible.
He agrees that Abbas is in a precarious domestic political situation and has “no real incentive to make the bold decisions that are needed in order to formulate a permanent agreement based on comprise.” However he writes, “Abbas has a clear interest in moving forward with the negotiations. The problem is that he does not trust Netanyahu and is afraid he will fall prey to the rage of the masses in the event that he makes even the smallest concession without receiving anything in return from the Israeli premier.”
In a column focused on Syria, Jeffery Goldberg briefly shares his thoughts on Obama’s mismanagement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Specifically, he points to the president drawing “a line in the sand over settlements.” When Netanyahu only “partially and temporarily complied” with a settlement freeze in 2010, Obama did nothing to follow up. Goldberg suggests that Israelis keep “embarrassing and undercutting” the president because he will not do anything about it. In turn, he says Arab governments have lost faith in Obama since he did not follow through on the matter. Because of this, “he managed to freeze the peace process.”
Peter Beinart responds to Goldberg in his Open Zion forum at the Daily Beast. He writes that Obama did not freeze the peace process and instead the problem was the election of Benjamin Netanyahu. Beinart admits that Obama’s settlement freeze strategy was ill-advised but says the death knell for negotiations came when Netanyahu came into power and did not continue with the talks that his predecessor Ehud Olmert says were “four to six months” away from reaching a deal. Instead Netanyahu only endorsed the notion of a Palestinian state after U.S. pressure and several conditions. Beinart says, “Netanyahu's late father, Benzion, explained that his son only ‘supports it [a Palestinian state] under conditions that they will never accept.’”
In his conclusion, Beinart does concede that Abbas and Obama are responsible for some of the failures. He writes, “None of this is to suggest that the Palestinians and the Obama administration bear no blame for the failures of the last three plus years. Even if Abbas were willing to sign a deal (and that remains a big if), he'd still have to contend with Hamas. For his part, Obama has proven less able to nudge Netanyahu because he's failed to establish a rapport with Israel's people.”
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