Peres with Obama - Reuters - April 5, 2011
U.S. President Barack Obama meets with President Shimon Peres in Washington on April 5, 2011. Photo by Reuters
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In recent days, President Shimon Peres has been busy defending the domestic and international stature of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. At home, Peres helped Netanyahu stave off criticism over his indulgent flights abroad; and on Tuesday, Peres traveled to Washington to present Netanyahu's positions to U.S. President Barack Obama.

The reports from the White House were not surprising: Obama praised Peres, while offering recycled cliches about the opportunity for peace. The reports that came out of Israel at the same time, about the construction of hundreds of apartments in Jerusalem beyond the Green Line, were not surprising either, and neither was the U.S. State Department's routine criticism of the settlements.

There's nothing new here; everything is operating as usual. Netanyahu is buying time, the settlements are expanding, and Peres is talking about peace and backing up the government. After sending Peres to D.C., Netanyahu went to Berlin and Prague himself yesterday, in an effort to secure international support for his struggle against Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The prime minister wants to depict Abbas as a non-partner and to keep the Palestinians from declaring independence in September, with the United Nations behind them.

Netanyahu sees the conflict with the Palestinians as a public relations problem, one that can be resolved by conveying better messages than the other guy. He refuses to pursue any Israeli political initiatives; at most, the prime minister hints at some vague steps he intends to take. He believes that if he can just manage to convince "the world" that the Palestinians are to blame for the stalled peace talks, he will have done his job. Netanyahu is hoping and betting that Obama, who recently announced that he will be seeking reelection, will not intercede.

This is a dangerous and harmful approach. Rather than paving the way to a deal with the Palestinians, it leads solely to an intensification of the occupation and the conflict. Under Netanyahu's leadership, Israel is moving inexorably closer to a political disaster and an international boycott. The peace initiative put forth this week by former senior security officials and leaders in the business and academic sectors expresses public opposition to the prime minister's policy of digging in rather than moving forward. Such opposition, and not Peres' pointless talks in Washington, is how we can restart the negotiations and rescue Israel from its political crisis.