Today, the Israeli government formally accepted the Diplomatic Quartet’s proposal for restarting negotiations with the Palestinians. In doing so, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has once again made it crystal clear that the main, indeed, the only real obstacle to peace is the refusal of the Palestinian Authority to go back to the table. The PA has refused this offer; it says it won’t talk unless Israel agrees in advance to concede everything on territory even before the negotiations begin.
This contradicts the conventional wisdom put forward by most talking heads on television and liberal pundits who continue to insist it is Netanyahu’s fault peace has not broken out. But when did any of those commentators (like the New York Times’ Tom Friedman who demanded last week Israel once again freeze building in the West Bank in order to entice the PA back to the table) let the facts get in the way of their pat stories about Israeli stubbornness?
Israel has clear misgivings about the idea put forward by the Quartet (which consists of the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations) of separating the issues of territory and security from those concerning refugees and the status of Jerusalem. In the unlikely event of an agreement being reached on territory, there would now be no incentive for the Palestinians to compromise on their intransigent stands on dividing Jerusalem and upholding the so-called “right of return” for the descendants of the 1948 refugees. But Netanyahu wisely accepted the invitation to the talks, because he understands Israel must not refuse any opportunity to negotiate.
In any event, there is little danger the Palestinians will take him up on the offer. The PA has spent all of Barack Obama’s term in the White House disappointing a president who is eager to pressure Israel to accommodate the Palestinian cause. But Obama’s desire to pick fights with Netanyahu and to bring a Palestinian state into being has been frustrated by the simple fact PA leader Mahmoud Abbas has no intention of signing any peace deal that would force him to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn. Abbas has gone to the UN to demand recognition for a Palestinian state without making peace with Israel in order to evade the U.S.-sponsored peace process, not to enhance its negotiating position.
Netanyahu has moved as far as he should go toward accommodating America’s desire for more talks. If the Palestinians want peace and a state, they can have it, provided they are willing to negotiate. But the only thing they seem interested in is a deal in which they get everything without being required to end the conflict.
Those who expect Netanyahu to ante up further concessions in advance of talks are wrong. Israel has already enacted a building freeze at Obama’s behest, and Abbas still refused to talk. The idea Israel has nothing to lose from yet another such concession is mistaken. Whatever the final outcome of any possible talks, further compromises on the right of Jews to live in parts of the West Bank as well as in Jerusalem cannot take place in a vacuum. The Palestinians no longer want land for peace. Now they are demanding land for nothing. That is not an equation that any Israeli or American who cares about the Jewish state should be willing to accept.