The European Union is reportedly demanding another Israeli freeze on settlement construction to lure the Palestinian Authority back to the negotiating table. That single report encapsulates virtually everything that’s wrong with Western handling of the peace process.
First, there’s the blind belief that doing the same thing over and over will somehow produce different results. After all, PA President Mahmoud Abbas refused to negotiate during the last 10-month moratorium; why should a new one magically dissolve his reluctance?
Then there’s the mind-boggling idea that the Palestinians – who supposedly want a state – need to be bribed even to sit at a table with the only party that can actually give them one. The UN may recognize “Palestine,” but no UN army will come remove the Israel Defense Forces from the West Bank; only an Israeli decision will do that. Hence, if Palestinians won’t even talk to Israel without a bribe, perhaps they don’t actually want a state that much.
Finally, there’s the bizarre theory that the peace process – regardless of whether you think peace is genuinely obtainable or merely that process is better than no process – depends exclusively on pressuring Israel for more concessions, and never on demanding anything of the Palestinians. That theory was on full display in the run-up to the Palestinians’ bid for UN recognition last month. The New York Times, for instance, mourned repeatedly that “Republican” support for Israel in Congress (which the same article later admitted to be bipartisan) prevented President Obama from pressuring Jerusalem “to make concessions that could restart negotiations”; the result, it claimed, has been “stagnation on the Middle East peace front” that prompted Europe to step “forcefully into the void,” raising the prospect of Washington “having to share, or even cede,” its primacy in Middle East peacemaking.
In reality, the last two years are an object lesson in why such one-sided pressure doesn’t work. For 16 years, negotiations progressed because of a balance of pressure: America was allied with Israel and Europe with the PA, but neither Israel nor the PA could afford to alienate the other’s chief ally, as America and Europe are simultaneously Israel’s two largest trading partners and the PA’s two largest donors.
But Obama’s decision to put “daylight” between Washington and Jerusalem – for instance, by demanding a settlement freeze, which had never previously been a condition for negotiations – disrupted this balance, because Europe didn’t step into the breach: It continued pressuring Israel exclusively. With all the pressure now on Israel, Abbas, as he told the Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl two years ago, thought he could just sit back and wait for Israel to capitulate – and then, when that didn’t happen, he blamed Obama for not providing “a ladder to climb down from the high tree.”
But it seems Europe still hasn’t learned. Rather than, say, threatening to cut its generous funding to the PA if Abbas doesn’t resume talks, it is once again demanding Israel pay the price for Abbas’s intransigence. And as long as Abbas can keep extracting more concessions just by saying “no,” why on earth shouldn’t he keep saying it?