I’ve written over the last year about the newest phenomenon among the Palestinians and their supporters: they do not want negotiations—at all—with the Israeli government. In the past, the Palestinian leadership could at least use negotiations as a ploy to bide time or look like statesmen, and force Israeli leaders to spend their time on the Palestinian issue instead of other domestic issues.
But something changed with the speech Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made at Bar Ilan University in 2009, in which he declared his support for a two-state solution. And the shift has taken place, it seems, because despite the derision with which Netanyahu’s pronouncement was met by leftwing columnists, the Palestinian leadership seems to actually believe Netanyahu means it. And so negotiations have taken on a sense of historical heft they didn’t have in the age of Arafat, when everyone knew ahead of time Arafat’s answer would be no. Mahmoud Abbas has responded to the situation by adding new preconditions every time Netanyahu agrees to the last ones, in a desperate attempt to stave off peace negotiations. And now Jimmy Carter is getting in on the action.
Carter arrived in Israel this week with former Norwegian prime minister Gro Harlem Brundtland and former Irish president Mary Robinson, two other critics of Israel looking for something unhelpful to do with their time. The trio came to Israel to heap more attacks on the Israeli people, as would be expected. But they also met with Mahmoud Abbas. Did they at least suggest that maybe Abbas should consider negotiating with Netanyahu? The Times of Israel reports:
Abbas told them that he has decided to go ahead with the plan to ask the UN General Assembly to accept Palestine as a nonmember state in November. While Israel and the US fiercely oppose such a move, saying it doesn’t change facts on the ground and would preempt the outcome of future negotiations, Carter, Robinson and Brundtland wholeheartedly endorsed the plan, as it would give the Palestinians “a new stature.”
Rather than multilateral negotiations, Carter’s team told Abbas to ignore talks in favor of unilateral action opposed by the West. According to the New York Times, Netanyahu’s office pointed out the flaw in Carter’s no-negotiations strategy:
Mr. Regev pointed to Mr. Netanyahu’s 2009 speech calling for two states and said he “has repeatedly expressed his readiness for direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks without any preconditions whatsoever in order to advance that goal.”
“Those who want to see peace advanced should be asking the Palestinian leadership why they continue to boycott the negotiations,” he said in a statement. “The prime minister has consistently initiated confidence-building measures,” he added, citing the reduction of roadblocks, the advancement of funds and the issuance of work permits, among other measures.
But Mr. Carter blamed Mr. Netanyahu for the stalemate.
“I’ve known every prime minister since Golda Meir,” he said, ticking off experiences with Menachem Begin, Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak. “All the previous prime ministers have been so courageous in their own way. In the past, all committed to the two states.
I suppose it bears repeating that past Israeli prime ministers did not support the two-state solution, up to and including Yitzhak Rabin. And that Netanyahu is to Rabin’s left on a Palestinian state, borders, and even Jerusalem. And that it’s pretty difficult to come to an agreement without negotiations.
Carter’s recipe is for continued Palestinian statelessness and the end of the peace process, not to mention Mideast diplomacy in general. That’s his right, of course, but we can at least appreciate the moments like these when he makes it so explicit.