When Squeezed, Both Netanyahu and Abbas Will Accept Kerry’s Plan

Netanyahu and Abbas have not even met once during John Kerry’s marathon peace planning – yet the forces pushing both leaders to accept will be stronger than those holding them back.

Aaron Magid
Aaron Magid
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Aaron Magid
Aaron Magid

The moment of truth has almost arrived. After endless visits, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will soon present the interim American framework to both sides. Although Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas have repeatedly criticized each other for their domestic audiences, they will both reluctantly support the American initiative because their political fortunes and legacies demand such action.

Netanyahu is a seasoned politician who has mastered the ability to remain in power. He is Israel’s second longest-serving prime minister and has won three elections. Ministers Yair Lapid and Tzipi Livni, chairpersons of parties together accounting for 25 seats in Netanyahu’s coalition, have vowed to leave the government if talks break down with the Palestinians. In this scenario, Netanyahu’s term will come to a screeching halt. He would likely need to seduce three opposition parties to join his government - an improbable outcome.

While some have argued that Netanyahu will be unlikely to abandon his right-wing partners, the clash with ultra-nationalist Economy Minister Naftali Bennett over the place of settlements in a final status agreement several weeks ago suggests otherwise. Netanyahu demanded that Bennett apologize or face dismissal, proving that the prime minister is willing to distance himself from his coalition’s hawks.

Israel will also face dire boycotts if Netanyahu rejects Kerry’s offer. In July, the European Union restricted its funding to Israel to not include West Bank settlements. Even in America - considered a more pro-Israel environment - academic organizations, as yet small in reach, voted to boycott Israel.

Finance Minister Lapid, who primarily campaigned on socioeconomic and not diplomatic issues, declared, “If the negotiations with the Palestinians blow up, and we enter the reality of a European boycott … the Israeli economy will face a dramatic withdrawal that will substantially hurt the pocket of every Israeli.”

Kerry is predicting an increase of violence if no deal is reached. In a harsh interview addressing the Israeli public, Kerry warned, “The alternative to getting back to the talks is the potential of chaos. Does Israel want a third intifada?”

Similar to Netanyahu, Abbas faces severe political risks if he rebuffs Kerry’s offer. In contrast to the solution of violence proposed by Hamas and other extremists groups to protest Israeli occupation, Abbas has conditioned his political legitimacy and survival on establishing a Palestinian state through talks with Israel.

If Abbas were to reject Kerry’s plan, then Hamas would announce to the Palestinian public that they were always correct about the futility of negotiations. Abbas would appear incompetent for engaging in dialogue with Netanyahu for so long while Israelis continued to build settlements.

Skeptics contend that Abbas would be able to take unilateral measures at the United Nations. However, if Abbas were to reject Kerry’s plan, there is little chance that Obama would support Abbas’ full UN membership - a prerequisite given America’s veto on the UN Security Council. Furthermore, given all of the fanfare last time Abbas went to the UN in 2012 to secure international legitimacy, little has changed on the ground with the occupation continuing.

Abbas would risk a rupture in relations with America. Kerry has been working intensely on bridging the gaps between Israelis and Palestinians during his frequent visits. He is placing his personal prestige and the credibility of the Obama Administration on the line.

With Obama largely avoiding the crises in Syria and Egypt, a failure here would demonstrate American ineptness in its Middle East policy. A Palestinian rejection would be a personal affront to Kerry and prove to the world that former Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban’s famous quote “The Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity” is accurate. Even worse, the European Union’s warning in December 2013 of possibly cutting off its massive funding to the Palestinians if talks fail could lead to the Palestinian Authority’s collapse.

In typical fashion through this politicized and complex conflict, while both sides will accept the plan, they will cite reservations to parts that their domestic audiences find difficult to swallow. According to the framework detailed by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, Palestinians would express misgivings about recognizing Israel as a Jewish state and Israel would object to declaring East Jerusalem the capital of Palestine. But, similar to Israeli and Palestinian positions toward George W. Bush’s 2003 Road Map, when squeezed into a corner both leaders will accept Kerry’s framework.

Abbas and Netanyahu are mistrustful of the other’s intentions. During the entire round of recent negotiations, the leaders have not met once. Yet, the forces pushing the two of them to accept Kerry’s proposal are stronger than any doubts holding both leaders back. Fortunately for Kerry, both leaders’ national, and, more importantly, political interests are aligned with responding positively to Kerry. Ironically, this may be the most effective way of reaching peace - at least until the next major decision.

Aaron Magid is a graduate student at Harvard University specializing in Middle Eastern Studies. He has written articles on Middle Eastern politics for The New Republic, Al-Monitor and Lebanon’s Daily Star. He tweets at @AaronMagid.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu / Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.Credit: Reuters / AP

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