Instead of Seeking Peace With Abbas, Netanyahu Tattles to the Teacher Obama

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Netanyahu talks with Abbas during a group photo at the World Climate Change Conference 2015 in Paris, France, November 30, 2015.
Netanyahu talks with Abbas during a group photo at the Paris climate change summit, November 30, 2015.Credit: AP

Tuesday’s newspapers were adorned with front-page photos of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shaking hands with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the Paris climate conference. The prime minister quickly explained that his rare gesture was only done out of politeness (“it’s diplomatic protocol”) and media spin. He told reporters: “It’s important that the world see that we are prepared to speak to the Palestinians, but I have no illusions about Abu Mazen” — Abbas.

After the photo-op, Netanyahu buttonholed U.S. President Barack Obama in a hallway to complain about the Palestinian leader. “I said to Obama, look at how Abu Mazen is continuing his incitement,” the prime minister said. According to Netanyahu, “Obama told me that he plans to speak with Abu Mazen about this, and that he agrees with me that it has to stop.”

So here’s an interpretation of Netanyahu’s performance. In front of the cameras, Netanyahu made it appear that he was seeking peace, and later explained in Hebrew for domestic consumption that all was show so that Education Minister Naftali Bennett wouldn’t threaten to break up the governing coalition.

When the photographers left the room, he explained to Obama that there was no one to talk to, like a kid tattling on his friend to the teacher – “but he started it.” Israeli leaders used to accuse their Arab rivals-colleagues of doublespeak; Netanyahu has upgraded his diplomacy to triplespeak.

That’s Netanyahu’s policy: The main thing is to get through another international conference, another news broadcast, another meeting with Obama without entering a serious discussion on Israel’s future, a solution to the conflict and delineating the state’s borders. Everything is PR, spin and clumsy attempts at winning media points in a confrontation with Abbas’ “incitement” while maintaining the stability of the right-wing government.

Netanyahu can’t persuade the international community that the terror in France and the stabbings at Gush Etzion Junction stem from the same source. Western leaders are fighting the Islamic State while supporting independence for the Palestinians and expressing their opposition to the settlements. Instead of taking advantage of the chance to join with Obama, the European Union and the Sunni Arab countries to achieve the two-state vision that Netanyahu is ostensibly committed to, he focuses on postponement.

The current wave of violence should be a catalyst in efforts at dialogue, compromise and a solution to the conflict, not pretense for staged photographs. Instead of laying out Abbas’ sins to Obama, Netanyahu should have gone into a room with Abbas and talked seriously about ways to push the peace process forward.

Tattling to the teacher and fears of the bullies in the coalition aren’t a substitute for an initiative that seeks to improve Israel’s security and international standing.