There's no peace of the weak
Obama's basic error was linking the Palestinian-Israeli conflict with his reconciliation policy with the Muslim world.
The camera caught Hillary Clinton and Benjamin Netanyahu in an affectionate, cheerful pose, as if they were about to burst into a waltz. The U.S. secretary of state was smiling broadly, and the prime minister's eyes were closed with pleasure. The fear that Clinton would land here as a version of the old lady in the Durrenmatt play "The Visit" - who came to settle a score - was proved false. She came to tell us that the administration welcomes Netanyahu's initiative for a partial, temporary construction freeze in the settlements, and it wasn't a precondition.
Those who expected her to harass us were surprised to hear her reject Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' uncompromising terms. She said the peace negotiations must be resumed for compromises to be reached, and that the Palestinians' demands were not conducive to peace. To soften U.S. President Barack Obama's statements she stressed that the United States was committed to Israel's security. Netanyahu also received a promise for a meeting with Obama. The prime minister will now also take part in the Jewish Federations' General Assembly in Washington.
A few weeks ago The Jewish People Policy Planning Institute convened in the United States. Daniel Shapiro, senior director of Middle East and North Africa at the U.S. National Security Council, attended the conference. Participants complained that Obama wasn't communicating with America's Jews and asked how far the president would go to pressure Israel. After the discussion Obama decided he would address the Jewish Federations' General Assembly.
The walls of Jericho don't come tumbling down with one speech, nor do the walls of hate for Israel in our region. Peace doesn't erupt as a result, either. The president's basic error was linking the Palestinian-Israeli conflict with his reconciliation policy with the Muslim world. Thus he drove Abbas to set every condition he could muster. What negotiations begin by making concessions in advance? And how can Obama pressure the Palestinians after tying the conflict's resolution to reconciliation with the Muslim world?
The president, meanwhile, has learned a thing or two about Jewish power in America. Next year there are elections for Congress, and he will need Jews' support to avoid losing the Democratic majority in one house or both. Obama realized just in time that he had erred and that removing settlements alone would not solve the conflict. Ariel Sharon uprooted the entire Gush Katif bloc from the Gaza Strip, and instead of receiving a counter-gesture from the Palestinians, the area we gave up became a base for firing Qassam rockets.
The main pressure has now shifted from Netanyahu to Abbas, who is setting unrealistic conditions. You don't give first, then talk. First you talk and then you give. There is only one business in which clients pay first, and it's not the peace-agreement business. Defense Minister Ehud Barak was right when he said, "what do you care if they build a little, we'll evacuate most of the settlements in the end anyway."
There is no justification for setting preconditions to opening negotiations. Everything must be open and on the table, not as dictates but as bargaining chips. Abbas did not respond to Netanyahu's "almost historic" proposal for "two states for two peoples." Israel would have to negotiate the fate of more than a quarter of a million settlers as part of this proposal. What more does Abbas want, to agree to resume talks on the two-state principle?
An observer familiar with politicians' shtick believes that Bibi is doing nothing and will continue to do nothing. "He's lucky Obama is emerging as a nothing, that Abbas is a nothing and that nothing will happen," he said.
Meanwhile, the prime minister has won the jackpot in the form of his planned meeting with Obama. He is marking time and Abbas is marking time.
In a conversation with someone who was involved in the peace process with Egypt, I broached the possibility of reenacting the Camp David Accords with an American plan and the White House's vigorous participation. He said that in Camp David in 1978, Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat knew they would be coming out with a "peace of the brave," a phrase coined by Sadat. Nothing was paid in advance.
The Camp David we knew was not a basis for a peace of the weak. The last time we were there the second intifada broke out