Like two naughty school boys, Bibi Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas were called to the Head Master’s study in Washington for a stern talking to over the sat two weeks. No doubt both were told “could do better”, but their respective reactions to The “framework” presented to them will surely have left the gap between the protagonists as wide and ever.
We might have expected some immediate follow-up from John Kerry, but one or two other issues have cropped up around the world that need his attention first. But the red lines on both sides must have left the State Department frantic to find some miraculous way to rescue these doomed talks before the end of April.
After so many years of conflict and twenty years of “peace process”, did John Kerry really believe he was ever going to wrap things up in nine months with no loose ends?
In international conflict resolution situations the spotlight is naturally on the lead players; in this case Messrs Netanyahu and Abbas. The teams behind them doing the real work seldom get much recognition but their bosses get the credit or the blame in the end-game.
What the media-led frenzie usually forgets is that neither leader acts alone. Both Netanyahu and Abbas have to answer to their political constituencies for decisions they make – decisions which those constituencies can reject, swiftly returning us to square one!
The hard truth is that neither of the two leaders can accept what is on offer from Washington. Aside from the fact that the two negotiating teams have not spoken face to face for weeks, both have come under immense pressure to perform what is essentially face-saving for Obama and Kerry.
Let’s face some unpleasant but inescapable facts, firstly on the Palestinian side…
Neither the Fatah council nor the PLO council wanted Abbas to enter into more talks, so why should they rubber-stamp anything he might agree to? Indeed statements coming out now, in the aftermath of Abbas’ return home, suggest the opposite.
Abbas is into the tenth year of his four year presidency! In other words, he has no democratic mandate to negotiate on behalf of anyone, let alone to claim (as he has done) that he represents all Palestinians.
The Palestinian “street” doesn’t want him to make any kind of deal with Israel. This is largely an own goal, since a whole generation has grown up under PA-sanctioned incitement to hate Israelis and Jews and been encouraged to continue “the resistance”. So if Abbas ever wanted their support in any negotiations, he should maybe have advocated peace at their level too!
The Arab states surrounding the area under dispute have no wish to see an end to the conflict. The Israel-Palestine dispute of itself is increasingly a marginal issue in a region in turmoil; a schoolyard scuffle compared to the gang warfare in Syria or the efforts to prevent Iranian hegemony, but the Palestinian cause must be kept alive in order to maintain an excuse for continued enmity against Israel.
Lastly, the truth is that Abbas himself doesn’t want the conflict to end. As the head of the Palestinian Authority. He must take responsibility for the output of his official media organs, all of which promote the myth that “Palestine” includes all of the UN-recognised democratic state of Israel. That myth explodes the moment Israel is officially recognised as a Jewish state.
Recognising Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state means an end to the fiction of a Palestinian “right of return” and he would have to either end the conflict or remain in a constant state of war against the neighbour he needs in order to survive (water, power, economy…).
So much for Abbas’ problems; what about Netanyahu’s?
Unlike his opposite number, Netanyahu carries a democratic mandate, but a very right wing one! The present governing coalition (every government is a coalition in Israel) is the most right wing government the nation has ever seen and that without ultra-orthodox participation.
In a country where it is frequently said that most people want peace but most don’t believe it will happen, any compromise Netanyahu made would have to pass a Knesset that is not about to divide Jerusalem, give up the Jordan valley or dismantle settlements. A wrong move could see his coalition fall apart.
Israel knows that giving up land doesn’t bring peace, so please everyone stop telling her to do it! Right now, rockets from Gaza and IEDs on the Lebanese border are because Israel was pressured to give up territory in the hope of receiving peace – and didn’t! Giving up “reasonable land swaps” to keep major settlement blocs will not go down well at all with Israelis living in those swaps!
Jerusalem is so undividable for many reasons that even Netanyahu’s more left-wing coalition member, Yair Lapid, says it shouldn’t happen. To offer a compromise on the city would be to defy one of Israel’s basic laws, that Jerusalem is the eternal and undivided capital of Israel.
The Jordan Valley is, from Israel’s perspective, a “no-brainer”. Taking up a sizeable proportion of her longest international border, handing its control to the Palestinians would be to leave a wide open door to every Jihadi West of Karachi, along with their rockets, anti-aircraft missiles and bombs. Who would ever want to fly into Ben Gurion airport or visit Jerusalem?
Both Abbas and Netanyahu face the wrath of their constituencies if they make unpopular compromises. Netanyahu has at least tried to come as far as he dares towards the Palestinians, but Abbas has made no compromises at all. It isn’t in his nature and it is not something the Arab world does easily.
There is a story, possibly apocryphal, that President Bill Clinton was pushing Yassir Arafat to do something he was politically unable to achieve. The saying goes that Arafat said, “Mr Clinton, you won’t follow my coffin through Ramallah.”
In other words, for a compromise too far Netanyahu could lose his political career. Abbas risks a bullet in the head. John Kerry’s peace talks are dead, but Mahmoud Abbas doesn’t want to die with them!