The Issue: Direct talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
My friend S. wrote me:
“……… I maintain a harder position on the interaction between the government of Israel and the PA. I don't think Israel should make any concessions, not an inch of anything, outside the framework of direct negotiations. I think Barak (Obama not Ehud) is playing into Abu Mazen's hands by negotiating for him. Abu Mazen has just today said he sees no point in direct negotiations at this time…….. I don't believe that Netanyahu should take one step outside the framework of direct negotiations. It is clear from outcomes of past negoiations that something must also change about the conditions of those negotiations so that they are more fruitful, but my feeling is that there must be direct negotiations. So much for my two agorot.”
and my rejoinder:
I understand you…and what can I say?......you are in the company of a great many who have gotten hooked onto the seemingly simple logic of our government’s stand regarding direct talks: “We want direct talks, they don’t”. Few are involved enough to look at the small print. We are in the world of politics. Abu Mazan has a number of good reasons to hesitate before getting involved with direct talks at the moment. My own estimate is that he’s making a great mistake and should get his feet wet regardless of how deep the water may be. But truth be told, the water is pretty deep and awfully murky. Netanyahu refuses to begin talks where other direct talks had ended (mainly with Barak, Clinton, or Olmert). He gives no indication regarding what he will be willing to offer. He Insists that Abu Mazan come with no preconditions, while constantly telling both the media and his coalition that he has preconditions of his own. Throughout this year of no real talks Netanyahu was handed at least two peace initiative proposals, the older Pan-Arab Saudi Arabian one, and a detailed local one by the Palestinian Authority. Both use the Clinton/Barak/Olmert plans as a basis. Both say that details are negotiable. Both accept that their plans are just a starting point for talks. Our government refuses to discuss the possibility of even discussing either plan. We give no indication of what we are willing to bring to the table of direct talks.
And from here we get to Netanyahu’s real attempt in direct talks: stall, stall, stall…..until A Two State agreement will no longer be viable. Abu Mazan is weary of falling into a well orchestrated stall tactic. Netanyahu, while insisting that any talk must begin without prior conditions from the Palestinians, often declares the non-negotiable conditions of his own:
1. East Jerusalem remains wholly in Israeli hands (though most of the annexed East Jerusalem was never part of Jerusalem).
2. After a temporary freeze (at least 3000 new homes were built during the “freeze”!), Building will continue in the West Bank, regardless of talks, because expansion must continue.
3. An Arab proclamation of Israel as “The Jewish State”, rather than as the “State of Israel, Homeland of the Jewish People” (the difference is critical here in the Middle East),
4. While Abu Mazan wants the direct talks to focus on borders and to set a time limit goal, Netanyahu insists that the talks focus first on things like infrastructure and water rights with no time limit for the talks.
With these conditions out in the open Netanyahu knows that Abu Mazan can’t easily accept beginning direct talks. Netanyahu has a firm ideological basis for creating talk-tactics that are meant to stall. The goal has always been to scuttle the possibility of a Two-State modus-vivendi. I don’t think people realize how ingrained is the belief in a “One-State” solution within the Likud (Revisionist) agenda (and also on the conservative Palestinian agenda) as the proper resolution of our local situation. Our Right wing has always believed in it, but of late there have been very important Likud persona inside and outside the Knesset who have come out openly once more in support of One-State. Theoretically, there is an inherent logic in such a solution….one that claims we can then be a Democratic Jewish State with complete individual rights and equality for Arab and Jew but with no separate National rights to Arabs. I would also be for it were we really able to be a Democratic Jewish State (or even a democratic bi-national State). But in a One-State situation we most assuredly would fairly quickly be either/neither a Jewish State or/nor a Democratic State. ( I think I’ve previously elaborated on what we would actually be and/or not be…see past letters). Inherent in this agenda are the preparations of laws that will assure a Jewish dominance in any sort of political situation that would then ensue. This past year has seen, as never before, a whole series of (racial and loyalty) laws and proposed laws, mostly from the coalition government, towards inaugurating that eventuality.
Abu Mazan should enter direct talks regardless of the danger involved by Netanyahu’s stall tactics, and maneuver these talks with the help of American and European pressure to the issues of borders, settlements, etc….and a Two-State agreement. It would of-course collapse the Netanyahu coalition government, a welcome event. It is a dangerously undemocratic government selling a perversion of Jewish values. But mainly….no talk is far worse than attempted talk……it plays into the hands of those opposed to a Two-State agreement and brings us closer to the non-viable and much more dangerous One-State option.
(At this writing, a couple weeks after receiving S.’s letter [I’m evidently a slow responder], there are indications that Abu Mazan will enter direct talks. We’ll keep an hopeful ear and eye out to see what develops. Who knows…….)