Hold­ing talks with a con man

Arab News - - OPINION -

ANY­ONE who imag­ines Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu gen­uinely be­lieves that di­rect talks with Pales­tinian lead­ers can re­sult in a deal is de­lud­ing them­selves. Why? The Is­raeli prime min­is­ter has never had any in­ten­tion of re­lin­quish­ing an inch of oc­cu­pied Pales­tinian land for peace; on the con­trary, his goal is ex­pan­sion­ism. Else why would be sanc­tion the creep of Jewish set­tle­ments and the evic­tion of Pales­tinian res­i­dents of east Jerusalem from their homes?

More­over, there is no way he would even con­sider hand­ing over east Jerusalem to be­come Pales­tine’s cap­i­tal. Fol­low­ing decades of fruit­less talks, Mah­moud Ab­bas un­der­stands the game, which is why he’s not re­ply­ing to Ne­tanyahu’s “im­pas­sioned” re­quests to sit at the ta­ble.

And lest we for­get in the run-up to his re­elec­tion, the hawk­ish Is­raeli leader made it known that there would never be a Pales­tinian State as long as he was in charge. He only soft­ened his stance in re­sponse to crit­i­cism from the White House once his feet were back un­der his desk.

Ne­tanyahu may se­cretly dream of a day when Pales­tini­ans dis­ap­pear in a puff of smoke or can be trans­ferred else­where, but since that’s not go­ing to hap­pen, he metes out cook­ies laced with hope trust­ing Pales­tini­ans will bite so they will be com­pli­ant and easy to man­age while they wait in vain for jus­tice. Those who re­sist — whether man, woman or child — are gunned down mer­ci­lessly, their fam­ily home de­mol­ished, or im­pris­oned.

In any event, his ver­sion of a Pales­tinian State bears no re­sem­blance to any other on earth. It’s ba­si­cally a larger ver­sion of Gaza with no con­trol over its own airspace, ports or bor­ders — and no mil­i­tary. It would also re­main eco­nom­i­cally de­pen­dent on Is­rael. And if and when the lead­er­ship doesn’t play by Is­rael’s rules, it will be vul­ner­a­ble to re-in­va­sion. That would be a tooth­less en­clave, not a sov­er­eign state in any rec­og­nized sense of the world.

As long as Ne­tanyahu and his ex­trem­ist col­leagues are at the helm, Pales­tini­ans are des­tined to chase wind­mills. The pos­i­tive cli­mate in the coun­try that pre­vailed when Yitzhak Rabin was PM was ended with his as­sas­si­na­tion, never to be re­stored.

Is­raeli pub­lic opin­ion polls show that 60 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion is in fa­vor of peace ne­go­ti­a­tions; al­most 48 per­cent sup­port the idea of a wall be­ing built to sep­a­rate Jerusalem from nearly Pales­tinian villages, 41.8 per­cent be­lieve a peace agree­ment would not pre­vent “Pales­tinian ter­ror against Jews” while 48.2 per­cent say it’s more im­por­tant to them that Pales­tini­ans rec­og­nize Is­rael as the state of the Jewish peo­ple than reach­ing a peace agree­ment. Only 8.3 per­cent strongly be­lieve that peace is pos­si­ble dur­ing the com­ing years.

Rabin was just as much of a fer­vent Zion­ist as Ne­tanyahu but he un­der­stood that the an­nex­a­tion of the West Bank and Gaza would make Is­rael not a Jewish State but a bi-na­tional state. He was also keen to achieve good re­la­tions with the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity. “Is­rael is no longer a peo­ple that dwells alone, and has to join the global jour­ney to­ward peace, rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and in­ter­na­tional co­op­er­a­tion,” he said.

Ne­tanyahu takes a very dif­fer­ent ap­proach. Is­rael has sur­vived this long cud­dled by the US and armed with nu­clear bombs that he sees lit­tle ad­van­tage in mak­ing con­ces­sions. He has the men­tal­ity of a war­rior, not a peace­maker. He and his likes have be­come used to their coun­try be­ing on a per­ma­nent war foot­ing; it’s all that they know.

In the un­likely event he ex­pe­ri­enced an epiphany and sought to fol­low in Rabin’s foot­steps, he would be blocked by the mes­sianic lean­ings of his ra­bidly right-wing Cabi­net, es­pe­cially now that Avi­g­nor Lieber­man who’s called for the be­head­ing of “dis­loyal Is­raeli Arabs” has been of­fered the post of de­fense min­is­ter. For­mer left of cen­ter Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ehud Barak has been quoted as say­ing Ne­tanyahu’s gov­ern­ment has been in­fil­trated by “seeds of fascism.”

“What was taken by force can only be re­stored by force,” as­serted Ja­mal Ab­del Nasser, but as long as Is­rael has a nu­clear ar­se­nal and so­phis­ti­cated “Made in the USA” weaponry, that isn’t an op­tion. Ul­ti­mately, there re­main two chan­nels, which may open-up in the fu­ture.

The first would en­tail a cor­re­la­tion. The ad­vent of left-wing Is­rael lead­er­ship at the same time as there is a White House pre­pared to squeeze Is­rael with sanc­tions. For in­stance, US pres­i­den­tial Bernie San­ders has ac­cused Is­rael of per­pe­trat­ing war crimes and he de­mands “fair and re­spect­ful treat­ment of the Pales­tinian peo­ple.”

The sec­ond re­lies upon the en­tire Arab World pre­sent­ing a fu­ture Is­raeli gov­ern­ment with an of­fer it can’t refuse — peace with all Arab League mem­ber coun­tries and full diplo­matic and eco­nomic re­la­tions plus se­cu­rity co­op­er­a­tion/guar­an­tees in re­turn for a vi­able Pales­tinian State with east Jerusalem as its cap­i­tal.

In the mean­time, hold­ing talks with a con man play­ing for time to keep the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity off his back, is not only time wast­ing but an in­sult to the in­tel­li­gence of the Pales­tinian peo­ple who’ve hopes have been raised high only to be dashed more times than I can count.

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