Avigdor Lieberman is in trouble again. The Israeli foreign minister was quoted at a joint news conference with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, as saying that he thought there was “absolutely no chance of reaching a Palestinian state by 2012.” Those words were enough to inspire the New York Times to predict that Lieberman’s remarks could “further strain peace efforts.” As the Times helpfully pointed out, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has said his goal is to be ready to set up a functioning state by the start of 2012. PA President Mahmoud Abbas tried to win Brownie points with Washington (which has been trying to convene peace talks) by countering that, unlike Lieberman, he still believed in the peace process.
Lieberman is well known for what critics have always considered a thuggish personality and the fact that his boss, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has insulated the Yisrael Beiteinu Party head from all important foreign-policy decisions, especially anything having to do with the United States. There is little doubt that Lieberman is as undiplomatic a foreign-policy spokesman as any country could have. But he was speaking the unvarnished truth when he scoffed at the notion that peace and a Palestinian state would arrive by 2012.
But contrary to the assumptions of Israel’s critics, the reason for this has nothing to do with the “hard-line” nature of the government in which Netanyahu and Lieberman serve. Both have expressed their willingness to accept a two-state solution. The problem is that Abbas and Fayyad, those alleged peace optimists, have no intention of signing a peace deal with Israel no matter how many concessions on land or any other issue Netanyahu and Lieberman are prepared to make.
The extent of the disingenuousness of this discussion, in which Israel is blamed for the dim prospects for peace, cannot be overestimated. Had the PA’s goal been simply to have a state alongside Israel, there would have been no need to wait for 2012. Unmentioned in the account of Lieberman’s gaffe is the fact that in 2008, Abbas and Fayyad rejected Israel’s offer of a Palestinian state that would have included virtually all the West Bank and parts of Jerusalem. Their predecessor Yasir Arafat rejected similar offers in 2000 and 2001. These refusals made it clear that the dynamic of Palestinian political culture made any peace agreement, no matter where the borders were drawn, impossible as long as it required the Palestinians to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state.
The current situation finds Abbas and Fayyad afraid to anger the Palestinian street by making such a pledge and unwilling even to negotiate directly with Israel. At the same time, the Islamists of Hamas are not only still firmly in control of Gaza but the international isolation of their terror regime is also breaking down in the wake of the aid flotilla incident, a development that weakens Abbas. Under these circumstances, it is hard to see how any serious person could possibly believe that peace efforts have any sort of chance no matter what concessions might be dragged out of the Israelis by the Obama administration. But rather than face these unpleasant facts, it’s much easier to blame it all on Lieberman and Israel.