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Contentions

In the Middle East, They Mean What They Say

Jackson Diehl takes a look at the ongoing peace talks: Bibi is talking peace and compromise (Netanyahu “spent the past week talking up a ‘historic compromise with our Palestinian neighbors’ and promising ‘to embrace original thinking’ to achieve it, even as ministers of his own cabinet loudly proclaim their opposition”). Meanwhile, Abbas is acting, well, like the Palestinians have acted for the past 60 years. When presented with the basic requirements of a peace deal (“Israel is recognized as ‘the national state of the Jewish people’ and that a stringent security regime ensures that ‘there will be no repetition of what occurred after we left Lebanon and Gaza'”), Abbas makes clear that the PA’s mindset hasn’t changed at all:

[I]t’s worth noting that Abbas, following his first extended private conversation with Netanyahu in Washington, spent the subsequent days giving interviews to Arab media in which he publicly rejected each of those terms. Palestinians, he said, will never recognize Israel as a Jewish state; they will not allow Israeli forces to remain in the West Bank. In fact, if he’s pressured to make any concessions, he told the al-Quds newspaper, “I’ll grab my briefcase and leave.”

Palestinian partisans rush to explain: Abbas says such things only because he is under terrible domestic pressure, not only from Hamas but from the Palestinian “street.” But is he? A study of recent Palestinian opinion polls by David Pollock of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy pointed out that 60 percent of Palestinians will accept “mutual recognition of Israel as the state for the Jewish people and Palestine as the state for the Palestinian people.” Half say they could tolerate an interim Israeli presence on the Jordanian border “for reasons of security.”

No wonder Obama was telling the rabbis to ignore the parties’ public statements, for if they focused on what Bibi and Abbas were saying, it would become apparent that Obama has done nothing to alter the dynamic that has prevented a resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict for 60 years. Israel wants a deal; the Palestinians don’t have the will or the ability to make one. If Abbas really did share the yearning for a peace deal, he’d be preparing his side for compromise, not stoking the flames of rejectionism that has kept his side stateless these many decades.

In fact, it’s arguable that Obama has made things much worse. He’s emphasized the settlements — the PA’s favorite excuse for rejecting a deal — and given the PA the impression that this and perhaps other concessions can be extracted from Israel without corresponding moves by the Palestinians. So once again, he is doing the PA’s bidding, publicly turning the screws on Israel on settlements, while ignoring Abbas’s obvious disdain for a workable peace agreement.

Contrary to Obama’s advice, I think it’s time we started taking everyone in the Middle East at their word. Israel wants a deal, will defend itself against the Iranian threat, and isn’t going to continue to dole out unilateral concessions. The Palestinians can’t agree to the essential elements of a peace deal. Iran wants to dominate the region and wipe Israel off the map. Once the administration takes the Middle East players and their motives at face value, there might be a chance to construct an effective and reality-based foreign strategy. But not before.



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