Despite my many objections to the undemocratic nature of Mahmoud Abbas’ regime in the West Bank, I sympathize that he has been placed in a near-impossible situation. After US President Obama demanded a full settlement freeze as a precursor to negotiations, Abbas did the same; when Obama backed out of that demand, he left Abbas clinging alone to that demand. Now, he is under immense pressure from the United States to return to direct talks without a settlement freeze. In the New York Times today, there is an editorial calling for Abbas to return to the table unconditionally. The article, despite mentioning the potential troubles Abbas faces, paints the Palestinian leader as a rejectionist who is refusing to talk to Israel for no apparent reason.
While I agree that Abbas is not helping his cause by refusing to sit for talks, the Times editorial should have spent more time on the actions of Israel and those actions contradict Netanyahu’s willingness to enter direct talks seriously. From the Times:
So it is now. After three months of American-mediated proximity talks, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has agreed to direct negotiations on a two-state solution; the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, is stubbornly resisting. It is time for him to talk.
While later in the article, the writer does mention that Israel’s PM Netanyahu could be using direct talks as a political ploy, it creates the sense that Israel is eager to make peace. If one is to look further than simply the rhetoric that comes from Tel Aviv, it is clear that Netanyahu has done very little to promote peace. While he deserves credit for instituting the settlement construction moratorium last November, that law was rarely adhered to by settlers and didn’t include the all important East Jerusalem.
[tweetmeme] Furthermore, by allowing settlements to continue to expand and without any sort of agreement or framework on borders, Netanyahu has essentially created a lose-lose situation for Abbas: The Israeli PM is doing everything to ensure the failure of the talks while painting Abbas as the stubborn leader.
Later in the editorial, we see:
Mr. Abbas no doubt is worried that the Palestinians will be blamed if negotiations fail and that Mr. Netanyahu will use the process to give the illusion of progress while never addressing Palestinian concerns about borders, security, refugees and the future of Jerusalem. Mr. Obama must be ready to point fingers when needed and put forward his own proposals if progress lags.
What the article does not mention is the distrust that Abbas has for Washington after being betrayed once already. It is one thing to say that Obama is ready to point fingers, but it is another to receive guarantees that Netanyahu will actually follow through on any agreement – something that Obama is apparently incapable of doing.
It is true that a Palestinian state cannot be achieved by sitting ‘on the sidelines,’ but currently direct negotiations look like a poorly disguised political bear trap. Abbas cannot have serious negotiations with an Israeli PM that is allowing more colonization of Palestinian land. By simply refusing to extend (and harden) the settlement freeze, Netanyahu is making it clear to Abbas that he has no intention of actually making peace. Why would Abbas bet his political standing on such a clear failure?
Photo from Ajeal