Netanyahu Should Say Yes to Abbas

The Israeli prime minister should return to the negotiating table or face the consequences.

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, March 29, 2015.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, March 29, 2015.Credit: AFP

The declaration of the President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas that he is ready to restart immediately and without any preconditions the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, is more evidence that the Palestinians’ conduct is preferable to that of Israel. As opposed to the declaration of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the eve of the election, that during his term as prime minister a Palestinian state would not be established — a statement that infuriated the American administration, the international community and supporters of the peace camp in Israel — Abbas continues to be perceived as a moderate force in the region, who respects the decision of the Israeli voter and seeks to find a nonviolent solution to the conflict.

Abbas is carefully carving his path to broad international recognition, almost consensual, of a Palestinian state. Even if he is also motivated by internal political pressures, such as the Hamas government breathing down his neck, he has succeeded in convincing the world of the seriousness of his intentions. He has shown readiness for a compromise and commitment to advancing a permanent agreement in the region based on the Arab League initiative, which he calls “the greatest gift that Israel could receive from the Arab world.” The proposal being formulated in France for the UN Security Council, whose goal is the recognition of a Palestinian state, and the economic sanctions against Israel that the European Union is considering are examples of his success.

All this comes at a time when Netanyahu is busy with his war of defamation against the American administration, which has led to a deterioration in relations between the two countries, now at a nadir of distrust; and to a war on two fronts — the Iranian nuclear issue and the conflict with the Palestinians. So while Abbas enlists international public opinion on his behalf, Israel is busy alienating itself globally; while Netanyahu and his ministers, in their previous term, did all they could to sully Abbas’ image, the Palestinian president strengthened his status as a legitimate and moderate leader.

Netanyahu must accept Abbas’ proposal and return Israel to the negotiating table. These talks must immediately include the core issues, which are: security coordination (which already exists), agreed-upon borders, refugees and the status of Jerusalem. Any foot dragging, evasion or attempts to sabotage the talks on Netanyahu’s part will strengthen Hamas’ hand, on the way to another purposeless war in Gaza, and maybe also in the West Bank.

If Abbas is not a partner, as Netanyahu claims, this will become clear during the talks. As prime minister, Netanyahu bears the weight of national responsibility on his shoulders. He must not lead the country toward sanctions and international isolation. Nor should he drag Israel onto the path of annexation, which would put an end to the Zionist vision and the Jewish and democratic state. Netanyahu must reach out in return to Abbas.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah. Credit: AFP

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