Commentary Magazine


Contentions

A Mess of His Own Making

The non-peace talks are on hiatus while Mahmoud Abbas goes running to the Arab League for instructions. Elliott Abrams explains why we shouldn’t much care:

The sky is not falling. Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations were suspended on Sunday, perhaps briefly and perhaps for months, after Israel’s 10-month moratorium on settlement construction expired. Palestinian officials said they would refuse to talk if construction restarted, and so they did. Yet war hasn’t broken out, nor will it. …

Also last week, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas reminded his people that “we tried the intifada and it caused us a lot of damage.” Hamas, the terrorist group that rules the Gaza Strip, can commit acts of terror at any time. But with Israeli and Palestinian officials working together to keep the peace, Hamas can’t create a general uprising.

Peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) have been an on-again, off-again affair since they began with the Oslo Accords in 1993. During the Arafat years talks alternated with terrorism, for Arafat viewed both as useful and legitimate tactics. After the so-called second intifada of 2000-2001 and the 9/11 attacks, Israel’s then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ran out of patience with that game, as did President George W. Bush. From then on they worked to push Arafat aside.

As Abrams points out, the Bush team oversaw negotiations for five years, under the “in and up” but not “out” understanding on settlements:

The Obama administration junked that deal, and its continuing obsession with a settlement freeze—Mr. Obama mentioned it again at the U.N. last week—has cornered Mr. Abbas. The Americans are effectively urging him back to the table while making it impossible for him to get there. This diplomatic problem is what medical science calls “iatrogenic”: a disease caused by the physicians themselves.

Whether or not the parties return to the table, Abrams explains, it is important to keep our eyes on the real world. On the West Bank, economic progress continues. Security has improved. (“Most of this good news came, of course, during 18 months when there were no peace negotiations at all.”) So long as the Obami manage not to get in the way of all that, there is hope that one day there will be a Palestinian society that supports a peace deal. But not now. So let the diplomats shuttle. Or not.

The greatest danger right now is not to “peace” but to Obama’s prestige and credibility. And frankly, that’s an iatrogenic phenomenon, too. Or in common parlance, Obama has made his bed, and unless the Arab League and Bibi rescue him out, he will be forced to lie in it.