Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The phantom prospect of peace walks along a threadbare tightrope. About a decade has now passed since the breakout of the ruinous second Intifada, and the latest news is that the US is desperately cajoling the Arab League to keep the delegations on their respirators.

Saeb Erekat, the top negotiator for Team Abbas, declared after League practice ended, “If Israel continues to build settlements then there will be no negotiations,” according to Isabel Kershner in the Times. After the Sept. 26 expiry for the settlements passed, the very idea of direct (or proximity) talks threw itself completely into question—if not oblivion.

Team Netanyahu has yet another opportunity to declare that there is no partner for peace. If they themselves were Palestinian, doubtless they would, and in fairness should, terminate the talks without any hesitation. Any agreement with a coalition as extreme and rejectionist as Bibi’s would totally ruin any credibility Abu Mazen still may have.

On the other side, any settlement on the question of settlements that does not allow the further absorption of the land that rightward Israeli opinion sees as Judea and Samaria is worthless, and any negation of the right to continue to settle the land is anathema to the coalition around which Bibi is surrounded. A man in an ideological straitjacket and a man with no power sit at the bargaining table pretending to be equals.

Abbas, although powerless, has a Plan B: appeal directly to Team Netanyahu’s sometimes reluctant patron and paymaster. Erekat confirmed that his players would ask the United States for recognition of an independent Palestinian state (somehow) built “on the 1967 borders,” according to a Reuters dispatch. Those borders no longer exist—like the homes of the refugees, or like most of the Israeli left.

What would become Palestine is, at present, an archipelago of quasi-autonomous “bantustans,” in the words of Jeff Halper, a veteran Israeli activist. Netanyahu, in last summer’s official approval of a Palestinian state, said it would be “demilitarized”—i.e., defenseless. In the prevailing circumstances, no Palestine can come into being worthy of anyone’s self-respect. Imagine if the Brits, instead of ending their mandatory rule, self-servingly approved a state of Israel under the condition that it be demilitarized and riddled with UK-sanctioned colonies and military checkpoints, for the Jews’ protection from the extremists living among them causing all the trouble.

Speaking of the refugees, whose descendants now number in the millions, Ha’aretz editorialist Akiva Eldar wrote that Bibi “does not want to create a crisis over the freeze.” Eldar asks the reader, “Why should he have a crisis over the demand of Jewish migrants to settle in Hebron if he can focus it on the demand of Palestinian refugees to return to Haifa?” He quotes Dan Meridor, pointman for the Netanyahu crew, saying that he is “not too optimistic” that the Palestinian Authority, set up in the wake of the Oslo agreements in 1993, will give up the right of return for their refugees. “That would mean conceding the rationale for the [PLO],” Meridor added, correctly. Some Israeli settlers, in a very underreported instance, indicated that they see no harm in Palestinians returning to their homes in Jaffa if they can return to their homes in East Jerusalem.

I want Israel to act honorably. Given the regional balance of power, there is an enormous responsibility to compromise. Yet its leadership refuses to act in good faith, and is therefore abusing that responsibility. I want the Palestinians to recognize how high the deck is stacked against them, and how hopeless talking is when the core issues are off the table in order to keep the talks alive. With Monday’s news that Israel has demanded the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state in order to extend the freeze (and the predictable reply), further progress is cemented.

Nabil Abu Rdainah, an Abbas spokesman, is quoted to have said, “The issue of the Jewishness of the state has nothing to do with the matter.” He’s incorrect; it has a lot to with the matter. For the religious-nationalists in Bibi’s corner, the settlements are not dry cartography: they symbolize the redemption of the land. If that land is going to be divided by the two national entities that live on it, as justice would suggest, and there is to be a freeze in perpetuity of any more settling, as politics would require, the other side has to accept the mythos. It refused, giving a gift to the Israeli right: there is no negotiating partner, they’re irrational, etc.

In all of the intricacies of this 60-year-old blood feud, let us make clear that Netanyahu is not Rabin, Abbas is not Arafat, and Obama is not Carter. No one is on the same page—not even close. The talks, however hard we should pray for them, as there may be no alternative, are doomed to failure. The faster the plug is pulled, perhaps the better. Until tomorrow’s choices arrive.