Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Naivete of the Direct-Talks Optimists

Haaretz's Aluf Benn, a well-respected commentator, writes of a "changed Netanyahu" who in his opinion is truly determined to reach a peace deal with the Palestinians.  He notes that
"Ten months ago, Netanyahu told me in a phone interview for Haaretz, the liberal Israeli daily where I am a columnist and editor: "I want to promote a peace agreement with the Palestinians. I can bring a deal." I wrote afterward that I believed him, only to receive mocking comments from many readers who called me naive."
I wish he'd listened.  Netanyahu is a smooth and savvy political operator who knows that
  • Obama needs some sort of foreign-policy "progress" to hang Democrats' November election hopes on, and by pushing these "talks" Netanyahu can give him that
  • Netanyahu needs the US to keep pushing  a hard line against Iran, and a grateful Obama will be more likely to comply
  • PA president Mahmud Abbas has been reduced - by Israel's policies and actions over the last several years - to the lightest of political lightweights, desperate to retain the US's support, but only able to keep it by playing along with yet another negotiations charade
  • holding to a hard line vs. the Palestinians would only isolate Israel more, and give world opinion a stronger case for insisting that Hamas be brought into the "peace process" - the last thing Netanyahu wants
Giving back any sizable portion of the West Bank to the Palestinians will likely produce a civil war in Israel, as well as mutiny among some IDF units, and it will also cause Netanyahu's coalition to crumble and his government to fall.  He's playing for time; and he has no intention of offering the Palestinian side anything even close to acceptable to them, or just in the context of history.

A NY Times analysis suggests that Hillary Clinton may have the diplomatic skill and tenacity to get something done - citing among other things her famous backseat of the limo, dual cell-phones diplomacy that got Turkey and Armenia to sign off on an agreement.  Good for her - but the fact of the matter is that that deal has never been implemented.

Same thing applies here.  Hillary may be able to cajole and bully Abbas into signing some sort of feel-good document with Netanyahu - but without Hamas being included, it will be worth less than the paper it's printed on.

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