Does Bibi want a twostate deal? Jury’s out

The Jewish Chronicle - - WORLD NEWS - BY ANSHEL PF­EF­FER

AT THE end of this month, Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu will mark eight years since he re­turned to of­fice, fol­low­ing a decade­long ex­ile.

Through­out this en­tire pe­riod, the largest ques­tion mark loom­ing over his premiership has been whether he ac­tu­ally de­sires a two-state peace deal with the Pales­tini­ans — or if all the state­ments he has made to that ef­fect have been part of his strat­egy to play for time un­til the world is ei­ther tired of the con­flict or some­how con­vinced that Is­rael should not make any con­ces­sions to the Pales­tini­ans.

There is am­ple ev­i­dence to bear out both the­o­ries.

The re­cent rev­e­la­tion in Haaretz that Mr Ne­tanyahu spent close to a year dis­cussing a “re­gional peace ini­tia­tive” with Labour Leader

Isaac Her­zog, un­til Mr Her­zog fi­nally gave up on him five months ago, only adds to the mys­tery.

Dur­ing the talks, Mr Ne­tanyahu held mul­ti­ple meet­ings, both with Mr Her­zog and the lead­ers of Jor­dan and Egypt, as well as with for­mer US State Sec­re­tary John Kerry. And at the end of the dis­cus­sions, a joint state­ment was drafted, re­flect­ing a clear will­ing­ness on the part of Mr Ne­tanyahu to strike a deal in­volv­ing ter­ri­to­rial com­pro­mise. It all seemed to sug­gest that Mr Ne­tanyahu was se­ri­ous.

Un­less, of course, it was all an elab­o­rate cha­rade and the prime min­is­ter’s in­ten­tion from the start had been to string along his in­ter­locu­tors, play­ing for time as the clock ran out on Barack Obama’s pres­i­dency. There is ev­i­dence of this: at ev­ery crit­i­cal junc­ture, when a pub­lic state­ment of com­mit­ment was called for, Mr Ne­tanyahu was pre­vented from tak­ing the next step, fear­ful of the re­ac­tions within his coali­tion and even his own party. He must have re­alised while sit­ting with Messrs Her­zog, Kerry and el-Sisi that none of this would go down very well with Naf­tali Ben­nett.

As it so of­ten seems with Mr

Ne­tanyahu, there could be some truth in both ex­pla­na­tions — that he was se­ri­ous about the ini­tia­tive and that he was also play­ing for time.

With John Kerry fi­nally off the in­ter­na­tional stage and Mr Her­zog fight­ing what seems a los­ing bat­tle to re­main Labour leader, the re­gional ini­tia­tive has not dis­ap­peared.

If the joint press con­fer­ence with US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump last month in the White House is any­thing to go by, the new ad­min­is­tra­tion is quite en­am­oured by the con­cept as well.

Only now we have another ques­tion mark to add to the mys­tery sur­round­ing Mr Ne­tanyahu’s true in­ten­tions.

For all his faults, there was no mis­tak­ing Sec­re­tary Kerry’s earnest­ness in try­ing to pull the ne­go­ti­a­tions cart out of the swamp. With the new man­age­ment in Wash­ing­ton, noth­ing is clear and to­day’s en­thu­si­asm may eas­ily be re­placed by ap­a­thy to­mor­row and an­tipa­thy next week. And then, of course, there is the mi­nor is­sue of whether the Pales­tini­ans will join in.

It is too early to eu­lo­gise the “re­gional peace ini­tia­tive” be­cause it was never more than an em­bryo. Like so many other episodes in the Is­rael-Pales­tine diplo­matic process, it failed to ad­vance beyond the talk­ing stage. For many play­ers, talk­ing seems to be enough.

PHOTO: FLASH 90

Con­tra­dic­tions: Ne­tanyahu

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