The notion that the chief obstacle to peace in the Middle East is an Israeli unwillingness to make the sacrifices necessary for an agreement (settlements and Jerusalem) is a familiar theme in mainstream media coverage of the conflict. As such, today’s New York Times article about a luncheon hosted by Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas at his headquarters in Ramallah for a group of largely left-wing Israeli parliamentarians and politicians serves to illustrate this theme in which the Israeli government can be portrayed as being in denial about having a peace partner. But the piece, which allowed Abbas to narrate the course of diplomacy over the past two years without any contradiction, simply swallowed the Palestinians’ dog and pony show whole.
While Abbas loves to talk about talking with Israel when presented with Western or left-wing Israeli audiences, such as the members of the marginal Geneva Initiative, who were provided with a kosher lunch in Ramallah yesterday, his attitude toward actual negotiations with the State of Israel is very different. He responded to then prime minister Ehud Olmert’s 2008 offer of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem with a flat refusal. Since then, he has continued to invent excuses for not talking, such as his current specious demand for Israel to halt building in the West Bank prior to the commencement of new talks.
Times correspondent Isabel Kershner claims that “the overall point of Sunday’s dialogue was supposed to be less of recrimination and more of the possibility of peace based on a two-state solution, which would see the establishment of an independent Palestine alongside Israel.” But it isn’t recriminations or a lack of familiarity with each other that prevents Israeli and Palestinian negotiators from talking or even coming up with a deal. After more than 17 years of talks between Israel and the PA and its predecessor the PLO, they know each other only too well. The problem is that any deal, no matter how generous its terms or where Israel’s borders would be drawn, would pose a deadly threat to Abbas’s regime. The culture of Palestinian politics is such that any accord that recognized the legitimacy of a Jewish state or forced the descendants of the 1948 Palestinian refugees to be settled someplace other than Israel would enable Hamas to topple Abbas.
Thus, instead of actually talking with Israel’s government, all Abbas can do is stage events that allow him to pretend that he wants to sign a deal when it is actually the last thing in the world he wants to do. The Palestinians know this. So do most Israelis and, as recent developments have shown, even the Obama administration seems to have caught on.
So how does Abbas get away with this? While one can criticize the media for treating a fake story as if it were significant, the main culprit here is the willingness of the Israeli left to be Abbas’s accomplices. Kershner quotes Amram Mitzna, a former general who was buried in a landslide when he ran for prime minister against Ariel Sharon in 2003, as testifying to Abbas’s credibility. Mitzna ought to know better, but like other figures on Israel’s left, he is sufficiently bitter about his total marginalization in his country’s politics (due to his credulousness about Palestinian intentions) that he is prepared to play along with Abbas. For the Israeli left, the object of this game is not so much lost hopes of peace as it is the delegitimization of Israel’s government.
If the Palestinians can ever bring themselves to sign a deal on virtually any terms, they will find that most Israelis will embrace them. But since there is no deal, no matter how injurious its terms would be to Israel’s security or rights, that they will sign, all we are liable to get from Abbas are more photo-ops, such as this ridiculous show.