Commentary Magazine


Palestinians See Netanyahu as a “Man of His Word”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is trying hard to blame Israel for the absence of peace talks, with predictable support from Europe: addressing the European Parliament last week, brand-new EU foreign minister Catherine Ashton parroted PA criticisms of Israel wholesale, not even hinting at any Palestinian responsibility for the impasse. But Washington has yet to weigh in. Before doing so, it should consider the following astounding report:

“This is the place to note that, surprisingly, [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu is widely perceived in the West Bank as a man of his word,” Haaretz’s Palestinian affairs reporter wrote, commenting on Abbas supporters’ claim that Netanyahu’s actions are mere “maneuvers” aimed at avoiding final-status talks. “In the period of [his predecessors] Ehud Olmert, Ariel Sharon and [Ehud] Barak there may have been peace talks, but the number of checkpoints reached a new high every week and chaos reigned in the West Bank.”

Netanyahu, in contrast, has kept his promise to remove checkpoints and otherwise facilitate Palestinian economic development — and it’s working. As the Jerusalem Post noted yesterday:

Only 14 major IDF security checkpoints remain inside the West Bank, easing the commute between Palestinian population centers. Unemployment is down to 18 percent (compared to over 40% in Gaza). The local stock market is on an upswing; likewise foreign investment.

A new mall has opened in Nablus. The cornerstone of a new neighborhood in Jenin was laid by PA President Mahmoud Abbas. Plans for a new suburb in the hills of Ramallah for middle-class Palestinians are advancing. A Bethlehem industrial zone is in the works. …

People are buying more cars. Bethlehem alone hosted a million tourists last year. West Bank imports and exports have exceeded $4.3 billion this year.

Indeed, the Haaretz report quoted a Palestinian journalist who termed the situation in the West Bank “not only better than in the past, but ‘terrific.’ ”

Netanyahu seems equally determined to keep his word on the settlement freeze, judging by a document leaked by an Israeli army source to settlers, and thence to Haaretz. The army has clearly been ordered to treat the freeze like a military operation.

For instance, the document states, “all agencies will be used” to detect violations of the freeze, “including the intelligence branch of the [Central] Command, the Shin Bet [intelligence agency] and regular troops.” And any illegal construction will be destroyed in blitzkrieg operations in which “tactical surprise” will be achieved “by blocking off the area with large forces so as to paralyze” resistance.

One might question the wisdom of a full-throttle military operation against one’s own citizens, but it certainly indicates determination on Netanyahu’s part to keep his word.

So might Netanyahu be equally sincere in claiming that he truly wants to reach an agreement with Abbas? If “agreement” is defined as complete capitulation to Abbas’s demands, no. But a deal produced by genuine negotiations, in which both sides make concessions? There’s only one way to find out. And it isn’t by letting Abbas demand ever more upfront concessions just to get him to the table.