Netanyahu Can Talk With Abbas, He Just Doesn’t Want To

If the prime minister has a position on the most central issue to Israel's future — its relationship with the Palestinians — he hides it.

Haaretz.
Haaretz Editorial
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Credit: AP
Haaretz.
Haaretz Editorial

In his meetings with European leaders, including last week in Britain, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was willing to resume direct talks with the Palestinians — without preconditions and immediately. But in Israel, in his conversation with hunger-striking women near his home, he added preconditions: Palestinian recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people and the demilitarization of Palestine.

And on the eve of the March 17 election, Netanyahu said that under his watch a Palestinian state would never arise, so what’s the meaning of his willingness to resume negotiations? What will he negotiate on?

The problem with the prime minister is that if he has a position on the most central issue to Israel’s future — its relationship with the Palestinians — he hides it. What he says depends on who he’s talking to. He sends one message to his voters and the opposite to the Europeans.

Netanyahu’s willingness to revive the talks is meaningless; it’s as if he never said it. His European interlocutors better realize this. The prime minister must decide whether he wants negotiations and isn’t just “prepared for negotiations.” The test is whether he invests as much effort in resuming the talks as he does in far less important decisions for Israel like the natural gas plan.

Now Netanyahu is talking about direct talks, but after the initiative of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, after the illusion of negotiations that hit a dead end, Netanyahu can make progress only if he revives Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ faith in him — in the seriousness of his intentions to conduct serious talks. From the previous round another conclusion was drawn: Netanyahu was dragged into the negotiations against his will; he may have detected the benefit of indirect talks, but not in achieving an agreement.

Meanwhile, nothing can be expected of the opposition in Israel. The Labor Party is tangled up in itself, and the leader of the Yesh Atid party is an arrogant right-winger. In his previous terms, Netanyahu sought refuge from the Palestinian question in the struggle against the Iranian nuclear program and recently in the hope of bolstering Israel’s ties with Muslim countries through the supply of natural gas.

But the agreement with Iran will be approved and Egypt has discovered its own gas. Now the prime minister owes strategic answers to Israel’s people and the country’s friends around the world.

In Netanyahu’s upcoming trip to the UN General Assembly, he’ll see the Palestinian flag flying among those of the nations of the world. Instead of useless fighting against international recognition of the Palestinians and the powers’ agreement with Iran, Netanyahu should use his speech to present a vision to resolve the conflict.

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