France has placed an offer on the desk of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: Begin direct negotiations with the Palestinians in September, on the basis of the Obama plan. The proposal does not define Israel's borders, draw a map of Jerusalem or determine which settlements Israel must remove. It even helps the Israeli position in that it speaks of "two states for two peoples," in other words it acknowledges that Israel is a Jewish state. It opposes unilateral steps by either side - that is, both the expansion of Israeli settlements and the Palestinians' intention of seeking UN recognition for their state.
This is a worthy proposal mainly because it can jump-start dialogue between the parties and assuage, at least temporarily, Netanyahu's concern over the internationalization of the conflict. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has accepted the proposal. Netanyahu, as expected, has turned up his nose, and will reportedly attempt to persuade Washington to oppose it. It would not be going too far to suppose that the prime minister is looking for another excuse to miss an opportunity and to stop the peace process.
It will be interesting to see what pretexts Netanyahu uses this time to strike down the proposal, whose whole purpose is to bring the parties back to the negotiating table. But more important is the question of what ammunition will remain to Israel when it is forced to appear before the United Nations in September, after having rejected the French offer. What will Israel claim in its defense if it turns down even an invitation to negotiate?
The government has so far persuaded only itself of the justness of its cause. As a result of burdening every every initiative with weighty reservations, it has been shoved into an isolated corner. Its intransigence has undermined relations with the United States and created a European cold front. Israel has thus subordinated its own right to exist to that of the settlements, instead of the reverse. Now it is even being forced to defend its recognition as a Jewish state, more than six decades after being granted that international recognition. Israel's bleak international position needs a Middle East peace rescue plan, not more excuses.
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