As long as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas did not agree to hold direct talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's situation was excellent. The refusenik was on the other side, as usual. The fact that Israel has refused to commit to the 1967 borders and agree to extend the freeze on settlement construction, while continuing to build in East Jerusalem, did not change Abbas' status as a refusenik.
But Abbas is not refusing to hold direct talks, he is only refusing to accept what Netanyahu told Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos: Continuing the settlement freeze after September 26 is impossible from a political point of view and will break up the government, as will Abbas' other demands, which Netanyahu described as "unrealistic." So with whom exactly does Netanyahu want Abbas to hold direct talks? With a phantom prime minister? With the man afraid of his own coalition's shadow?
On Thursday the Arab League's Monitoring Committee decided to "permit" Abbas to hold direct negotiations. Everything, of course, based on terms Abbas has set. Nothing has changed in principle - neither the position of the Arab League nor of Abbas. What has changed is the commitment that Abbas received from Washington, the kind that will let the Arab League give a green light to direct negotiations.
The result is that the negotiations with the Palestinians are being conducted over Netanyahu's head, on the Washington-Ramallah-Cairo-Riyadh axis. While Netanyahu is promising not to extend the settlement freeze as he approves the continued "Judaization" of Jerusalem, someone is holding genuine negotiations. While Netanyahu is dealing with the details of the show - direct or indirect negotiations - Washington and its allies are dealing with the content.
When the prime minister finds it hard to comprehend the change in the position of Abbas and the Arab League, when he says he can't meet the conditions because of coalition problems, we can question why this government should continue. Why not go to elections and try to establish a new Israeli leadership that can really lead?
The answer so oft repeated is that elections will produce an extreme right-wing government and halt the peace process. Really? And what kind of government is currently in power? Is it really the coalition that is threatening to bring down the government if its head makes a move toward the Palestinians? Isn't it the people furthest to the right, the more nationalist, who are setting this government's character and policy?
Anyone who believes in Netanyahu's good intentions cannot ignore that he has become a front - not to say a cartoon - that the extreme right is hiding behind. This impressive man, who speaks English so well, is at the receiving end of blows, not the real warmongers. Anyone who does not believe Netanyahu believes that it's a show and that there is no difference between Lieberman's right-wing and Bibi's right-wing. In both cases, this prime minister cannot achieve peace and will not advance the negotiations, and because of him relations between Israel and the United States may collapse.
And what if Lieberman wins the elections? First of all we will be rid of his bluffing, and that's nothing to sneeze at. With Lieberman as prime minister, the process could turn out faster. Pressure from the United States would be less hesitant, and the public response less ambivalent. With Lieberman as prime minister, extremism would no longer need to hide. The right would be a genuine right - fascist, racist, supporting the transfer of Arabs and giving the peace process no chance.
But then the left will somehow be able to revive, because anyone who is not from Habayit Hayehudi or Yisrael Beiteinu will be able to set up his own hostel and not be a guest at the shack set up by the right. People today in the center will not be shy about embracing their leftist leanings.
Anyone who fears elections wants to continue living a lie in which the extreme right does not dictate policy, in which Abbas, Haim Ramon or Shimon Peres are the enemies of peace, and in which salvation is possible only with direct talks. Idiocy. Until we have leaders who understand how dangerous the slope is on which Israel is racing, the slope will not disappear. Sometimes, when it's impossible to stop the fall, it's best to speed it up.
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