Palestinian Officials: Israel Peace Talks Are a Nonstarter While Netanyahu Under Criminal Investigation

Palestinian leadership concerned that Netanyahu may make moves to appease the Israeli right wing that will bury the two-state solution

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, August 6, 2017.
Emil Salman

Officials in the Palestinian Authority who are closely following reports about the suspicions against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are coming to the conclusion that the possibility he might be prosecuted in the coming months makes any effort to resume peace talks irrelevant.

Associates of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas recalled the atmosphere that prevailed when Ehud Olmert had to resign as premier, and the messages conveyed at the time by senior Israeli and American officials were that no progress could be made with a prime minister who was suspected of crimes. Moreover, they note that as opposed to Olmert, Netanyahu doesn’t have much to offer on the diplomatic front.

What the Palestinian leadership is afraid of is that Netanyahu may make moves to appease the Israeli right wing that will have serious ramifications in the field and bury the two-state solution.

“As of now Netanyahu hasn’t proposed anything and is evading any possibility of a solution,” said a senior Palestinian security official close to Abbas. “He isn’t prepared to give answers on substantive issues like settlement construction and the 1967 lines, which is why in the current situation and with the investigations against him, we have no illusions that he’ll suggest anything.”

According to the same source, the Palestinian leadership is beginning to believe that U.S. President Donald Trump won’t present any initiative in the near term, and even if the White House intends to do so it will prefer to wait until Netanyahu’s situation is clarified. If the investigations lead to Netanyahu being replaced or to new elections, the Palestinians say, everything will have to be reevaluated.

Dr. Nabil Sha’ath, Abbas’ adviser and holder of Fatah’s foreign affairs portfolio, told Haaretz that the Netanyahu investigations are an internal Israeli affair in which the Palestinians cannot get involved, but it was clear that any effort to renew the peace process on the basis of the Palestinians’ principles regarding the 1967 lines and Jerusalem was not on the horizon.

“We cannot even draw a parallel to Olmert, because unlike Netanyahu, Olmert had a worldview that included a future arrangement and there were negotiations that were making progress,” he said. “Netanyahu’s situation is totally the opposite; the man is just looking for ways to evade any commitment to the two-state solution, and now with the investigations we have to be prepared for moves that could be devastating to the diplomatic process.”

Sha'ath: Int'l diplomacy, 'popular struggle' to continue

According to Sha’ath, Palestinian efforts in the near term will be focused on the international arena in an effort to prevent accelerated settlement construction or the passing of laws that have direct consequences for the peace process. “We won’t sit with our hands folded and along with the international arena the popular struggle that we’ve seen in Jerusalem these past few weeks is a model the Palestinians want to adopt to prevent decisions that will intensify the occupation,” he said.

There are also those who are insisting that this is the time to make progress on the domestic front as well, primarily by reconciling with Hamas. The messages being conveyed by both sides on this issue are not encouraging; just this weekend Abbas threatened to continue to cut Gaza’s budgets as long as Hamas doesn’t show any sign of being willing to give up control of the Strip.

“This is a very difficult situation, with no diplomatic moves on the horizon and with a division with no end in sight, we are in a waiting period that no one can know where it will lead,” said a member of the PLO Executive Committee.

On Monday Jordan’s King Abdullah is due to arrive in Ramallah to meet with Abbas. The meeting was arranged over the past few days following the clashes in the Al-Aqsa Mosque plaza and the killing of two Jordanians by an Israeli security guard next to the Israeli Embassy in Amman. Jordan isn’t hiding its anger over the incident or over Israel’s behavior regarding Al-Aqsa, and thus the presentation of a united front with the Palestinian Authority is in the interest of both leaders. The PA also knows that the king is one of the few Arab leaders whom Washington will listen to, and that he can get clear messages to the White House about the diplomatic situation.

It should be noted that the Palestinian leadership is no longer hesitating to criticize the Trump team. Over the weekend Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the PLO Executive Committee and a longtime Palestinian spokeswoman to America, said Trump’s adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, cannot mediate between the Palestinians and Israel. According to Ashrawi, “Kushner isn’t aware enough of the details and developments in the region and he tends to conspicuously adopt the Israeli position.”