Netanyahu's New-old Methods of Stalling Peace Talks

Netanyahu will claim that since his predecessors failed, he can start peace process over from scratch.

When Jordan's King Abdullah sits down today with a president whose middle name is the same as that of his father, he probably won't miss the opportunity to warn Barack Obama about one of the biggest dangers to his Mideast peace plan. During his last meeting with then-foreign minister Tzipi Livni, the monarch said he was tired of hearing about "the peace process" - a phrase that has become synonymous with a perpetuation of the conflict. One can discern a hint of this impatience in the statement the palace released last week, after the king's coordinating meeting with a group of Arab foreign ministers, ahead of his visit to Washington. It stated that, "The time frame is critical for achieving serious negotiations to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through a two-state solution for two peoples."

In the prime minister's bureau, too, time is of the essence. His predecessors at the helm of Likud, Yitzhak Shamir and Ariel Sharon, taught Benjamin Netanyahu how to buy time from the Americans - months, and even years - at a bargain price. First, the settlement enterprise must be covered with the tried and true fig leaf known as the Labor Party. Give its leader the defense portfolio and he will impose order on the Palestinian side and ensure the guys on the outposts lack for nothing. Then you say that a new government needs a few weeks, perhaps months, to study the situation and to formulate its own peace policy. After all, the conflict with the Arabs is something completely new.

And in between all this, they will start bringing in the proverbial goats, and then remove them again. Just like the man who complained to his rabbi that he could not live with his 10 children and wife in one room anymore. The rabbi told him to take his goat in as well. When the man returned the following day, complaining that the situation had become even worse and more cramped, the rabbi told him to take the goat out again. The improvement was imminent.

First they say there is no Palestinian partner. After the first meeting with U.S. envoy George Mitchell, they announce that the prime minister called Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas. That is the first "concession" - a "[goodwill] gesture to Obama." As the second meeting with the envoy approaches, the media are permitted to start fattening the goat of determined opposition to a two-states-for-two-peoples solution. At the end of that meeting, they announce that Netanyahu is already talking about the condition for talks on establishing a Palestinian state - recognizing Israel as the state of the Jewish people. Here we have yet another gesture, and all of this before the Palestinians have even made the slightest concession. (The Palestine Liberation Organization recognized the partition decision that recognizes Israel as the state of the Jewish people more than 20 years ago.) The following day, once the Americans announce that they refuse to hear about preconditions, Jerusalem lets it be known that it will forego the Palestinian certificate of kashrut as well.

Netanyahu will take the fattest goat with him to the White House. This particular animal will be extremely difficult to remove. After shaking Obama's hand - as a sign of agreement to the immediate renewal of negotiations with the Palestinians - the prime minister will pull out the Clinton-Barak and the Bush-Olmert understandings, according to which "nothing is agreed upon until everything is agreed upon." Netanyahu will claim that since his predecessors' contacts failed to bring about an agreement, he is entitled to start from scratch. He will demand that the map of Palestine covering more than 90 percent of the West Bank's area - the map Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert presented to both Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas - be removed from the negotiating table. It will be interesting to see Abbas' expression when Netanyahu presents him with his very own map of Palestine, covering some 40 percent of the West Bank. No less.

An Arab El Al pilotA team from the Israel Democracy Institute, led by Prof. Tamar Hermann, and which is set to receive the Israel Prize for its work, has completed a fascinating study about Israelis' attitude toward the establishment. The researchers documented discussions that were held at the beginning of 2008 among nine separate groups: women between age 40 to 60 from periphery towns near Tel Aviv, hi-tech workers aged 25 to 45, high school students, university students, Russian speakers, "ideological" settlers, and groups from Umm al-Fahm (one composed of women only and a mixed one) and from Ofakim. "Like everyone else, we knew the citizens' attitude toward the political system had deteriorated but we didn't imagine just how much," Hermann says. The most frequent response to the question, "What is your opinion of the situation?" was, "The situation is bad." An analysis of the responses revealed that the "situation" did not refer to the occupation or the conflict. Women and men, Jews and Arabs, settlers and residents of development towns - all of them were mainly dissatisfied with the country's politics and the corruption of the politicians. On the other hand, they saw the Zionist project as good and their personal situation as reasonable and above.

Hermann finds comfort in the readiness of most survey participants (there were about 10 in every group) to admit that their complacence and the lack of belief in their ability to change reality contribute toward the "situation." Their involvement begins and ends with queuing at the polling booth and, at the most, participating in a political meeting held at a private home.

They make do with reading the newspaper's front page and then turn toward the sports and leisure sections. On the one hand, the research shows that Israelis are concerned about the low level of the politicians, Hermann says, but on the other hand, everyone keeps the people they hold dear away from politics.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman will no doubt find the following finding interesting. All the poll's Arab participants, including members of the Islamic Movement, stressed their desire to integrate into Israeli society and complained that they were rejected by it. They criticized the Arab-Israeli leadership and are unwilling to even entertain the possibility of a future Arab prime minister. They don't trust them. What would give them a feeling of pride and belonging? An Arab pilot in El Al.

"The best go to become pilots," they say. On the other hand, the group of settlers reported that the Gaza disengagement had left them feeling severed from the collective and from Israeli democracy. Three of them dream of a state governed by Jewish religious law.