Yasser Arafat was famous for perfecting a style of diplomacy that could win him accolades from naive Westerners without having to make a single concession or sacrifice for the peace process. He would do this by refusing to do something basic that he should have already done until he could extort a reward for it. The West would pretend they got a concession from Arafat, and Arafat would laugh and laugh. It was a classic lose-lose dance that has marked the peace process from the beginning.
Arafat’s successor, Mahmoud Abbas, is a slight improvement, but in this regard he is turning back the clock. Haaretz is reporting that something which in the pre-Obama days of Middle East diplomacy was taken for granted–the willingness by Palestinians to meet for the purposes of political theater–has turned into something that requires ever more concessions. The latest is the Palestinian demand that Israel release 125 terrorists just for the pleasure of Abbas considering a meeting. Benjamin Netanyahu has supposedly accepted the offer, and issued a proposal for how to structure the deal.
There are caveats to this: it’s possible Israel was mulling the release of the prisoners at some point in the near future anyway; alternatively, as Abbas has no intention of negotiating it probably won’t happen. Nonetheless, the mere whiff of such a story going public will have negative consequences, as the following two key paragraphs of the story indicate:
The Palestinians are at this point said to be in no hurry to agree to Netanyahu’s proposal; they are concerned that after the initial stage of prisoner release Israel will find excuses not to carry out the other four. The Palestinians also say Israel’s proposal for the exchange of old weapons for new ones is “humiliating,” and does not meet their security needs.
Talks between Erekat and Molho are ongoing ahead of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to Israel next Monday. This will be Clinton’s first visit to Israel since September 15, 2010, when she, Netanyahu and Abbas met at the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem. The talks have been stalled since that meeting.
On the first: the Palestinians are actually balking at their own ridiculous demands because Israel is only agreeing to release some weapons and some murderers to them–surely a recipe for peace–but are afraid they won’t get all the murderers and all the guns and ammo they’re asking for. Translation: they made a crazy offer designed to repulse the Israelis enough to keep them away from the negotiating table. The Israelis accepted the crazy offer–something the Palestinians didn’t anticipate–and now Abbas must find a way to weasel out of it. (He’s done this before; it works.) It’s possible the Israelis are simply calling Abbas’s bluff here. If so, the peace process is no less of a cynical joke than it has been for years.
On the second excerpt from the story: Hillary Clinton is coming to the region (though she is bound to get lost on the way to Jerusalem, since she still doesn’t know what country it’s in) to do some peacemaking, and would like the publicity stunt of announcing the resumption of talks. If she is serious, the first thing she should do is reprimand the Palestinians for trying to extort this face-to-face meeting with Netanyahu. If not, she should save the trip and her breath. If what she wants is peace, she cannot in good faith bless this sort of disaster.
What’s the point of all this? If you read this and thought: This is far too nonsensical for the United Nations not to be involved somehow, you would be right. Next paragraph:
The United States and Israel believe that a Netanyahu-Abbas meeting and Israeli moves could create an atmosphere in which Abbas is less likely to approach the United Nations once again in September with a request to receive the status of a non-member observer state.
Why? What makes them think this? If Clinton wants to prevent the Palestinians from taking more unilateral action at the dictators’ Pack ’n Play that is the United Nations, she should remind Abbas that unilateralism will thus have his blessing, and so he shouldn’t be surprised if the Israelis take a few unilateral actions of their own. What would those unilateral actions be? Who knows? Clinton should dare Abbas to find out.