Abbas is the Victim of Netanyahu and an Ideological Divide
The common characteristics and stark differences between Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Palestinian Authority’s President Abbas might just explain why the current peace negotiations are stalled, and are not likely to lead to any breakthrough as long as they remain in power. The irony is that while a majority of Israelis and Palestinians aspire for peace, Netanyahu and to a lesser extent Abbas have become the main obstacles, because they remain wedded to certain beliefs and ideologies that have long since lost their merit.
It is absurd to believe that Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts could in fact lead to a peace agreement on major concessions – including the Palestinian refugees, Jerusalem, national security and settlements – when Netanyahu and Abbas cannot even agree on the release of a handful of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for extending the peace negotiations to the end of the year?
Netanyahu claims that if he agreed to the release before securing the extension, his government would collapse. Abbas feels that if he were to agree to Netanyahu’s demand, he would be accused of having caved to incongruous demands coming from a person that the Palestinians dislike and distrust.
A conflict that has exacted so much pain, human lives, and material losses for more than six and a half decades should not, and cannot, continue only because Netanyahu and Abbas presumably disagree to extend the current negotiations. It is absurd, if not outright insane.
It is even more absurd that Netanyahu is now asking Kerry to secure the release of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard in return for releasing more Palestinian prisoners, extending the negotiations, and also freezing the building of new housing units in the West Bank. The irony is, how many more Pollards will it take to reach an agreement?
While Abbas has correctly taken the unilateral step of applying to 15 UN international conventions to pressure Israel, he has stated that he still remains committed to the negotiations but left the door open to join other UN agencies, including the International Criminal Court, should the talks fail – a move Israel fears the most.
He is convinced that he can go against the tide, believing that the Obama Administration will simply not put the kind of pressure needed on Israel, fearing domestic repercussions.
Poor Abbas – his hands are tied behind his back, or I should say, he asked that his hands be tied behind his back. There is not one single concession he can make, be that on the future of Jerusalem, the Palestinian refugees, the settlements, etc., without alienating one segment or another among the Palestinians, unless he first exacts significant concessions from Netanyahu.
What could have been the difference if you had two leaders who are really and absolutely committed to reaching an agreement based on the only viable option of two states for two peoples?
Simultaneously, they would have come out and faced their own respective publics and stated loud and clear: we both must make major concessions, however painful these may be. But these two leaders are simply incapable and unwilling to do just that.
As a result of their intractability, the price that both sides will pay is beyond what either could contemplate in their worst nightmare. Many Israelis will die to protect themselves, and many more Palestinians will prefer death over continued subjugation, humiliation, and despair.
It is about time for Kerry to read Netanyahu and Abbas their rights. The U.S. cannot reform these leaders; one with a messianic mission and the other presiding over a shallow political base frozen in time and place.
The second option is for Kerry to present to Netanyahu and Abbas his framework and give them one year to reach an agreement on a take it or leave it basis. Should they fail, the U.S. must be prepared to withdraw its political and financial aid from both Israelis and Palestinians alike.
The sooner the Obama Administration comes to this conclusion, the better off the Israelis and the Palestinians will be; but then again, it will take bold American leadership.
Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies. Web: www.alonben-meir.com