Netanyahu vs. the Negotiations

Netanyahu should understand that even if he succeeds in evading a peace agreement with the Palestinians, Israel will have pay a heavy price.

On Friday the Housing Ministry published tenders for the construction of 1,400 homes on the West Bank. On the day before, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that he would not negotiate the future of Jerusalem, even if this meant that the talks with the Palestinians would break down. Netanyahu even said he would not agree to any document that mentions, even in the most general terms, the establishment of a Palestinian capital anywhere in Jerusalem. Both these moves, coming immediately after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had left the country, raise doubts about the Israeli government’s commitment to the peace process.

A framework agreement is not a peace agreement. All the parties seem to have given up on the latter. If anything is to come of these discussions, it will be a document of principles that could perhaps, in the future, be the basis of a peace agreement. Such documents have accompanied the history of these negotiations – from the day the Road Map was formulated in an effort to translate the view of U.S. President George W. Bush into something practical; continuing through the mediation efforts of special envoy George Mitchell and the agreement to freeze construction in the settlements; down to this round of talks, which were allotted nine months that are quickly dwindling. But even a framework agreement, general and vague as it might be, is perceived by Israel as a major threat that must be neutralized before it takes shape.

If in the past the government would greet the American mediators with announcements of settlement construction, this time it has cleverly launched a separate track that has achieved something of a consensus – settlement construction in exchange for prisoner releases. The contiguous Palestinian sovereignty that is a necessary condition for establishing a state is being smashed with an initiative to annex the Jordan Valley. The Palestinian aspiration for some sign of sovereignty, however symbolic, in Jerusalem, has been crushed by Netanyahu in advance, even though in reality there is no city more divided. And if all that wasn’t enough, Israel is making recognition as a Jewish state a non-negotiable condition. The holes Israel is punching in the potential agreement will leave a document that looks more like a lace doily.

Netanyahu’s declaration and conduct strengthen the impression that he isn’t as interested in a peace agreement as he is in evading one in an “honorable” manner that will avoid getting Israel blamed for foiling it. Netanyahu refuses to understand that even if he succeeds, Israel will pay a heavy price for this evasion, a price that he will be unable to hide.