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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Calling the 'Palestinian' bluff?

Prime Minister Netanyahu heads to Washington on Tuesday night, where he will have dinner on Wednesday night with President Obama, 'moderate' 'Palestinian' President Mahmoud Abbas Abu Mazen, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Jordanian King Abdullah and others. On Thursday, Netanyahu will attend the first negotiating session of the new round of direct talks, along with Secretary of State Clinton and Abu Mazen.

Credit has to be given where it is due. Except for the lapse of the 'settlement freeze,' which is due to expire in 26 days, Netanyahu has given nothing in these talks. He has refused to commit to extending the freeze, he has refused to accept the 1949 armistice lines as any kind of basis for negotiation, and he has refused to commit to expelling any more Jews from their homes. He has continued to repeat the mantra "negotiations without preconditions," until that mantra became reality. He has refused again and again to return to the disastrous terms agreed to by Ehud Olmert.

So why are we all so nervous here? There are three reasons. First, Netanyahu has also not told Israelis were he stands. Is he going to make real concessions to the 'Palestinians' or is he planning to call their bluff? On Wednesday, MK Danny Danon (Likud) submitted five questions about Netanyahu's red lines. They weren't answered (at least in public) and won't be. I'd like to believe Netanyahu's playing a chess game in which he's going to be patient and wait for Abu Mazen to make the wrong move. But is that really what's going to happen? Netanyahu is known for talking tough, but he is also known for caving in at the end and making sudden mistakes (why, why Wye?). Will that happen again?

Second, in Barack Obama, the US has a President who is far more committed to bringing peace the 'Palestinian' cause than any of his predecessors. The silver lining in that cloud is that until November 2 when the midterm elections take place, Obama will pay a high political price for pressuring Israel. That will likely let Israel get away with not fully renewing the freeze. But what then? After November 2 until January, Obama will have a lame duck Democratic Congress that may be willing to do whatever he wants. After January, Obama will likely face a Republican-controlled Congress that will severely restrict his ability to push any sort of domestic agenda. Will he turn to foreign policy - and specifically Israel - instead? Will he give up on a second term altogether and seek a legacy as a 'peacemaker' by going all out to pressure Israel? Will he pressure the 'Palestinians' at all? (Rumor has it that he has pressured them in private, but I doubt that it's any more than Clinton pressured Arafat, which was pretty much not at all).

Third, we sit in the middle of several potential explosions. Iran seeks nuclear weapons to destroy us. Hezbullah has thousands of rockets ready to rain down upon us and has de facto control over Lebanon. Hamas has suicide bombers and missiles ready for us as well (Israel Radio reported this morning that Hamas now has rockets with an 80-kilometer range - enough to hit the Sharon region). What will set any of them off? Will the failure of these talks lead to war?

Based on where we stand now, here's what I see happening:

1. The freeze will be extended in time (whether for a whole year or in smaller chunks remains to be seen). It will not apply to 'east' Jerusalem and the 'settlement blocs,' although there may be restrictions on the construction of private homes unofficially (in Jerusalem) and officially (in the 'settlement blocs'). Netanyahu may feel he has to do this to ensure that he is not blamed if Abu Mazen walks out. But this will be enough so that Abu Mazen will not walk out.

2. Obama will place enormous pressure on Netanyahu after November 2 if Abu Mazen doesn't walk out before then. Obama's promise to pressure Netanyahu will keep Abu Mazen at the table. Netanyahu's fallback is his coalition. The coalition and the Israeli public have to keep voicing opposition to what's going on in Washington because that will give Netanyahu the ability to tell Obama that his hands are tied because Israelis aren't willing to do what it will take to seemingly satisfy the 'Palestinians.' If Netanyahu is greeted by massive demonstrations every time he returns from Washington (which hopefully won't be Friday afternoon every time as it will be this week), he can point to those demonstrations and use them to resist pressure from Obama.

3. Netanyahu will eventually call Abu Mazen's bluff over the 'refugees,' an issue with respect to which Abu Mazen has no wiggle room. Netanyahu may even offer to let some small number of 'refugees' return. But it will be an absolute number and it will come with an end of conflict declaration and Abu Mazen will say no.

4. Netanyahu will stick to his guns on the 'settlement blocs' and on Jerusalem. He will continue to insist on controlling the Jordan Valley. I can't promise you he'll stick to his guns on other points, but in the end it won't matter. If everything isn't agreed, nothing is agreed. And Abu Mazen will not agree to an Israeli presence on the Jordanian border, nor will he agree to a demilitarized state.

5. The 'Palestinians' will not be the cause of another war here right now. That will be left to Iran, and will lead to Hezbullah, Hamas, Lebanon, Syria and the 'Palestinians' joining in. Hopefully that will happen before Iran becomes a nuclear power.

3 Comments:

At 2:23 PM, Blogger Yair said...

It seems this is prediction time! I'll make a few too:

1. I'd bet that the freeze will not be renewed by Sep. 26. It is likely it will be renewed afterwards (sometime in Oct.) in some version or another. Why? Because it suits the main players.

* Abu Mazen will be able to embarrass Nethanyahu and Obama, and start building an alibi for the talks' failure.
* Netanyahu will note that every construction which begun between Sept. 26 and the renewal date is kosher per the terms, which makes it an easier sell in Israel.
* Obama should be able to spin this so he gets paeans in the American press for the talks happening at all, and this just before the midterms. This is much better than having the press look seriously at the talks' chance of failure (which will happen sooner or later, and Obama would prefer happen after the elections).

2. Nonetheless, the negotiations will go nowhere. The amount of pressure laid by the US is not related to the chance of success - successful US pressure on Israel will just lead to bigger Palestinian demands - their endgame is to get as much as possible without ending the conflict... And of course, Obama won't pressure the Palestinians ever.

3. Iran will become a nuclear power. Obama will not act, and Bibi will not act alone.

This will ensure another war in the region. The actual flashpoint isn't obvious though. There are quite a few other powderkegs (Iraq, the Iranian claims on some emirates, Yemen, etc. etc.) beside Israel and its neighbours.

 
At 4:00 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

Israel has three requirements for peace: recognition as the Jewish State, sovereignty in the Jordan Valley and a united Jerusalem and a Palestinian state with restricted sovereignty, e.g it cannot enter into foreign alliances or station foreign troops on its territory. The Palestinians are going to reject all of those demands and there will be no agreement. Without their acceptance, a two state solution is unlikely to ever materialize.

That is exactly what is going to happen in the foreseeable future.

 
At 1:13 AM, Blogger Yair said...

I just found this poll:

http://he.likudnik.co.il/חדשות/בליכוד/בדרך-לרעידת-אדמה-פוליטית.aspx

The massive damage to the Likud and Nethanyahu predicted there, makes it much more likely Nethanyahu would resist continuation of the freeze. Nonetheless, I still think we'll see a partial (unofficial?) freeze starting from Oct.

 

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