This time, Benjamin Netanyahu really wants to do it. The decision had been percolating for some time, and was finally made, after a not particularly hard push from U.S. President Barack Obama, in his Bar-Ilan University speech.
The prime minister's opponents, who look for flaws in everything he does, don't believe him. They think he doesn't mean what he says. How could he?
But he can. It happens to many decision-makers: They behave in ways that violate their fundamental beliefs. Improvement of Government Services Minister Michael Eitan, who this week called for extending the freeze on settlement construction, expressed it well. His explanation: On the issue of two states and the future of the settlements, he, his leader Netanyahu and a majority of their Likud Party have accepted the left's positions, if only by default.
The Bar-Ilan declaration became binding Israeli policy. It was also an ideological milestone with far-reaching ramifications: The leader of the camp identified with the indivisibility of the Land of Israel was the one who announced, in his role as prime minister, that the land will be divided.
Now, in embarking on talks whose aim is to implement the division, he has reconciled himself to that declaration, without any signs of traumatic guilt on either his own part or that of his party. What's done is done, as Eitan rightly observed.
But Netanyahu will not be able to do it this time, either. Not because he doesn't want to, or because he will lack a majority in the Knesset. If he reached an agreement with the Palestinians, the opposition would provide him with a majority, as happened with the Oslo Accords and the disengagement from Gaza. But with the Likud leading the move to divide the country's heartland, there would most likely be no need for the opposition's support.
Rather, Netanyahu will not be able to do it because this time, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas really can't. And he also doesn't want to.
Netanyahu, in contrast, has put himself in the political position of his predecessors Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon. There was almost no compromise they were not willing to make, or they indeed made many. But the Palestinians simply "couldn't do it." They even escalated the terror.
The minimalist Jewish Zionist consensus includes recognition of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people; relinquishing the "right of return"; ending the conflict and waiving all further demands once the agreement is signed; no division of Jerusalem by formal agreement, as opposed to practical arrangements; and the continued existence of the settlement blocs. Are the Palestinians prepared to accept this Zionist minimum? Absolutely not.
But even if it turned out that this time, the Palestinians didn't want to miss another opportunity to miss an opportunity, those with the real power would torpedo the process: Tehran, Damascus, Hezbollah in Beirut, and soon also Baghdad, where Iran will pull the strings. They would never accept recognizing Israel as the home of the Jewish people. They would use force to prevent the Palestinians from relinquishing the right of return, to prevent a declaration that the Arabs have no more ideological, religious and territorial claims in Palestine, that the conflict has ended.
The man who forced Abbas to go to Washington next week is the same one who, by withdrawing from Iraq and appeasing Iran, sowed the seeds of trouble that will undermine any agreement. Iraq's abandonment by the United States is creating regional instability.
The one who will benefit from the chaos is the one with power, defined goals and the determination to achieve them: Iran. And America, its wings clipped by choice and fearing another entanglement, will not be able to stop Iran from achieving decisive influence in the region and completing its nuclear bomb project. The axis of evil will not make do with its outpost in Gaza.
Given this situation, how could Abbas reach an agreement, even if he wanted to?
Terror is likely to resume during the talks, in order to thwart them. And Israel must prepare on all fronts for a long period of unrest - because Egypt is also in transition, characterized by instability, and the Jordanian monarch, as we all have seen and heard, is in a panic.
There is no certainty that the instability will lead to war. But it certainly doesn't bring peace between us and the Palestinians, or with most of the Arab world, any closer. Obama, when he imposed the direct talks, apparently didn't think about that. Thus the peace talks bring us no prospect of peace - only the seeds of war.
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