Netanyahu Prefers to Keep the Palestinian Problem

The prime minister says he is willing to resume talks with the Palestinians, but all of his actions suggest otherwise.

Amos Schocken
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits a construction site in Harish. November 3, 2015.Credit: Reuters
Amos Schocken

In recent months, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has, stating that he is ready to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah.

It’s unclear what the prime minister’s aim was when he agreed to go along with the negotiations overseen by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in 2013-2014. One can only speculate based on what was revealed to the public.

It seemed as if Netanyahu was being dragged into those negotiations against his will. At no point did he tell the Israeli public about the importance of the negotiations and a possible accord. And during all that time, the man who has been calling for direct negotiations did not meet with Abbas even once. Instead, he publicly imposed conditions for an accord, such as Palestinian recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.

Netanyahu knew that Abbas, who rightly also sees himself as representing the Palestinians who are Israeli citizens, could not agree to such a declaration – certainly not publicly, and certainly not before seeing that this was the last issue in the way of an accord.

The final note of the Kerry initiative was sounded with Israel’s refusal to release 26 Palestinian prisoners, the last batch of the 104 it had committed to release on the eve of negotiations (Abbas realized even earlier than this that Israel was not interested in progress).

If the negotiations were as important to Netanyahu then as he is suddenly claiming they are today, he would have released the prisoners last year.

Anyway, Netanyahu knows what Abbas’ conditions are for renewing negotiations for a minimum period of nine months: releasing the 26 prisoners in accordance with Israel’s prior commitment; the talks must focus exclusively on the borders issue during the first three months, during which period there will be a halt to settlement construction.

Abbas stated as much on various occasions in 2014, including during an in July 2014. So if Netanyahu is declaring his desire to resume negotiations, he knows exactly what he must do for this to happen – and there is no reason to try and get others to press Abbas to return to negotiations.

These claims are not new, they evidently have substance, and they were brought up earlier during the Kerry negotiations.

In order to advance a solution, the Americans and Palestinians proposed the convening of a tripartite committee that would discuss the matter of incitement and peace education in both the Palestinian Authority and Israel. But Israel made its consent for the establishment of this committee contingent upon the Palestinians first ceasing incitement in the media controlled by Abbas. Of course, the committee was never established.

On both the issue of negotiations and the issue of incitement, Netanyahu’s Israel, then and now, is showing that it would prefer to let the problem remain rather than trying to reach a solution.

The writer is publisher of Haaretz.

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