Few serious observers held out much hope for the current round of U.S. sponsored negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Even proponents conceded this was always going to be extremely difficult. But things in that negotiating room must now be going especially badly. Tzipi Livni, Israel’s chief negotiator and longtime advocate of the two-state solution and a negotiated peace, has for the first time come out publicly to condemn Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s negotiating positions.
For someone like Livni to have gone public on what are supposed to be closed-door negotiations, we can assume that her back must really be against the wall this time. With just three months to go before the current round of negotiations are due to expire, it seems that everyone, even the talks’ most enthusiastic supporters, are now preparing for the fallout from negotiations collapsing. And clearly Livni, too, is looking for a position from which to weather the storm.
Speaking over the weekend, Livni openly condemned what she referred to as Abbas’s “unacceptable positions” in the negotiations. We are told that Abbas is demanding all of east Jerusalem as a Palestinian capital, including the Old City and its holy sites, that he has refused to recognize the Jewish state, and in contradiction to what many believed to be his position in the past, Abbas is insisting that the millions of descendants of the Palestinian refugees return, not to a future Palestinian state, but to the very Jewish state that he refuses to recognize.
None of these demands are that surprising; Abbas knows full well that these are things that Israel will never be able to concede. But then Abbas also knows that his own political survival depends on not reaching an agreement with Israel, just as Livni’s political survival always depended on these talks yielding some modicum of success.
Clearly Livni is now facing up to seeing what most people saw long ago. Indeed, a recent poll showed that 87 percent of Israelis do not expect these negotiations to go anywhere. Even President Obama has said that he now believes these talks have a less than 50 percent chance of success, a remarkable statement at this late stage given the way his administration has spent the past five years strong-arming the two sides into talks that clearly neither felt particularly enthusiastic about.
Livni has staked her political career on the two-state proposal and a negotiated settlement. She was a protégée of Ariel Sharon and has sought to pickup where prime ministers Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak left off. Yet, like the two Ehud’s she now finds herself trading incriminations with the Palestinians as they appear set to walk away from yet another Israeli offer. This is what always ends up happening. Now that we’re back to this stage in the cycle once again it would be so easy, and indeed politically tempting, for her to attempt to lay the blame on her old rival, Prime Minister Netanyahu, by making the claim that he set her up with a negotiating position bound to fail. Instead, Livni has placed the blame where it’s due, with Abbas.
Mahmoud Abbas is now entering his tenth year of a four-year presidential term. He is all but devoid of legitimacy and has a proven track record of doing everything in his power to avoid negotiations with Israel, and to avoid agreeing to anything in the event that he is forced to take part in them. But if Secretary of State John Kerry should have seen this coming–and he really should have–then all the more so for Livni.
As a staunch believer in negotiations, Livni almost certainly wouldn’t have come out with these damaging revelations unless she felt she absolutely had to. Yet, trying to get in early and level the blame at Abbas before the blame is leveled at her is unlikely to save her career now.