Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Israel Matzav: What would Abu Bluff do for peace?

What would Abu Bluff do for peace?

In an article that bears the obtuse title (yes, I know, op-ed writers don't always get to title the article) What would Netanyahu do for peace? David Makovsky urges Prime Minister Netanyahu to show up with a vision for renewed talks when he comes to Washington later this week.

Israel’s reaction to the Hamas-Fatah pact has been to hunker down, hoping that the unity government will collapse under the weight of the parties’ differences. Yet paralysis carries its own risks. The U.S. partners in “the Quartet” — the European Union, Russia and the United Nations, which joined Washington in 2006 to lay out steps by which Hamas must reform should it want to become a legitimate interlocutor in the peace process — have cautiously welcomed the new government with hopes, as opposed to demands, that Hamas will evolve, though some have championed the fact that cabinet ministers in the new body are affiliated with neither Hamas nor Fatah. A majority of countries is likely to recognize a Palestinian state at the U.N. General Assembly this September.

This should be of serious concern to Netanyahu, who needs to overcome suspicions about his desire for a breakthrough. Rather than slide to September, Netanyahu should take the opportunity of his May 24 address to a joint session of Congress to lay out a compelling political vision toward renewed peace talks. He could state that if — and only if — Abbas cuts ties with Hamas, Israeli and Palestinian leaders could cross historic thresholds meaningful to both sides.

Polls show that the majority of Israelis and Palestinians want a two-state solution but remain uncertain of whether the other side is willing to make the necessary concessions. Both Netanyahu and Abbas need to address the other side’s gut fears. And the only chance of one side crossing a threshold is if the other side takes a comparable step.

In theory, the United States should have engineered and synchronized this crossing of thresholds. It has, however, been preoccupied with the Arab Spring and has not focused on this issue, perhaps precipitating former senator George Mitchell’s departure as envoy. The new Palestinian configuration further hamstrings our position. A speech by President Obama this Thursday, focusing on the Mideast writ large, with a possible mention of U.S. principles to end the conflict, is far less preferable than substantive leadership by Netanyahu and Abbas; it would be perceived in the region as exhortation without follow-through.

So it is up to both parties to act. Netanyahu should spell out to Congress the major threshold he will cross, but only if Abbas is willing to respond publicly in kind. Since Palestinians’ major fear is that Israel will hold on to the West Bank, Netanyahu needs to clearly state that this will not be the case. Although Palestinians realize that Israel will not return to the pre-1967 borders and that enforced security arrangements are vital for any agreement, they want assurance that the 1967 line will be the baseline for calculations in configuring the final border. Thus, whatever land Israel keeps from within the West Bank — which is likely to be adjacent to the old pre-1967 boundary, where a significant majority of the settlers live — will yield an equivalent amount from within Israel proper. Such a deal is in line with Israeli offers to every other Arab state on its borders; a statement to this effect will go far in assuring Palestinians that Netanyahu is serious about peace.

Netanyahu set out a detailed vision of peace in his Bar Ilan speech in June 2009. We have never heard a vision of peace - detailed or otherwise - from Abu Mazen or any other 'Palestinian' leader.

Netanyahu has repeatedly called for negotiations without preconditions and that's how civilized people sit down to talk. There is no rhyme or reason for Israel to give assurances about the outcome of negotiations by making concessions before coming to the table, particularly when the 'Palestinians' have never given any such assurances. There is certainly no reason Israel should commit in advance to turn over the entire 'West Bank' or to give equivalent land to anything it retains from 'Israel proper.' The fact that Israel made the mistake of turning over every last grain of Sinai to Egypt and gave some land along the Dead Sea to Jordan does not mean that it is required to follow the same model in every peace agreement. The areas demanded by the 'Palestinians' are far more sensitive to Israel's security than the Sinai or the Dead Sea area.

The real question Makovsky ought to be asking is what Abu Mazen would do for peace. Sadly, the answer appears to be nothing, which may be why Makovsky doesn't even ask the question.

Oh, and George Mitchell quit because there have been no negotiations since September, and not because of anything that happened in the last week. I'm sure that decision was long in the making.

Israel Matzav: What would Abu Bluff do for peace?

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