Every once in a while, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calls on the Palestinians to “return to the negotiating table without preconditions.” And yet, when Netanyahu issues this call and still nothing happens, the matter warrants an examination.
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Here’s a trivia question: What is the significance of the timing of these occasional calls to return to the negotiating table? It’s during one of Netanyahu’s speeches to an American Jewish organization? At an AIPAC conference? At the UN General Assembly? Before or after U.S. elections? Before or after Israeli elections? During a visit with the Israeli president in Jerusalem?
Another trivia question: Who is the intended audience? Obama? Merkel? Lapid? Bennett? Livni?
The correct answer is all of the above.
A few days ago the call to return to the negotiating table was sounded again. This time, Netanyahu’s tone had a renewed luster about it: One of Israel’s challenges “is to advance a solid secure peace with the Palestinians,” he said during an address to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations on February 11. “I believe that the framework for this peace is what I outlined in my speech in Bar-Ilan University.”
Eventually the prime minister returned to his usual phrasing: “Two states for two peoples a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state. I think to reach this solution we have to negotiate in good faith. Negotiating in good faith means you don’t place preconditions.”
Admit it. “Solid peace” is a new weapon in Israel’s arsenal against the Palestinians. We tried for a just peace; we tried a practical peace. Now, solid is preferable.
The call to “return to the negotiating table without preconditions” has morphed from a ritual inaugurated during the Bar-Ilan speech to a reflex activated at committees, conferences, assemblies and elections, and it has degenerated into a spasm. The body is already paralyzed. The mouth is still mumbling. In the last four years, a chronology of funeral processions has been written about negotiations with the Palestinians.
And it appears that these days, during coalitions talks, another chapter has been submitted maybe the last. It was predictable, but nonetheless it is disappointing: Aside from a bit of mumbling about peace, the only subject discussed in coalition talks, at least until now, is the question of sharing the military burden as if there were no connection between the peace process and the military burden. As if Netanyahu’s ideal situation could continue to go on as is, the Middle East could be put on silent, or on vibrate, and the conflict maintained without any solution.
In a few more days, maybe more, when the magician pulls a revised formula out of his hat, or is presented with a new formula, and placates the new politicians, Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid and Habayit Hayehudi chairman Naftali Bennett will provide Netanyahu with shelter as he descends into his diplomatic bunker of inaction. Where will Tzipi Livni be then? We’ll see.
No small number of Israelis tend to think that the key to propelling negotiations with the Palestinians lies in Obama’s hands, that during his second term, and maybe even during his upcoming visit to Jerusalem, he will do something about it. I think they are mistaken.
The U.S. commitment to Israel’s security never was and is not a substitute for Israeli policy. Obama, like the American presidents before him, did not volunteer and will not volunteer to solve the problems that the Israeli government isn’t hurrying to solve, is ignoring, or is placing at the bottom of its agenda. Whoever hopes to hear from Obama that “the keys are in the car and we may drive safely to peace” should expect to be disappointed. We should have already learned a long time ago that in a place that doesn’t seek peace and doesn’t want to make peace, there won’t be peace. And maybe we should have also realized that in a place where politicians don’t think, thinking outside the box won’t help.