Political Foil

Several weeks ago Israel embarked on a mission to politically foil the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas. The man who was a favorite of Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert became, in the age of Benjamin Netanyahu, a dangerous rival.

Abbas' refusal to negotiate with Netanyahu, or even meet with him in private, cost him an Israeli counter-attack: He was pressured to give up bringing the Goldstone Report to the United Nations for deliberations. Abbas capitulated on that, but then reneged and was exposed in his isolation. No one came to his assistance when his Hamas rivals ridiculed him for being a collaborator working for Israel. Not Egypt and Jordan, and not even the Obama administration.

Abbas was enticed to believe that Obama and he would pressure Netanyahu into a corner and lead to his downfall. Therefore he insisted that there would be no negotiations unless there was a freeze in settlement construction. But Netanyahu held out and has even become stronger, leading the Americans to abandon their dictate on freezing the settlements and leave Abbas alone in his refusal to resume talks.

Netanyahu celebrated a diplomatic victory: The US. Administration pulled back from its efforts to resume negotiations and the blame fell on the Palestinians. Netanyahu told the Americans that he could not comprehend the Palestinian refusal. The prime minister is of the opinion that the Palestinians are prisoners of a notion that the current Israeli government is unwilling to compromise, instead of giving it a chance.

Netanyahu's temporary victory may prove to be a defeat for Israel if Abbas carries out his threat to resign from politics. Then there will really be no one to talk to, and Israel will find itself exposed against Hamas and the initiative for the unilateral declaration of a Palestinian independent state, or an imposed agreement. Like Netanyahu, President Obama is also not pleased, as is reflected by his efforts to avoid a meeting with Netanyahu, who is due in Washington next week.

In the absence of a political process, Netanyahu is focusing on his favorite pastime: public relations. The capture of the arms shipment from Iran has given him a new tool with which to fight against the Goldstone Report. Netanyahu is not concerned that the report will result in Israelis being brought to the international court as war criminals - only that it would undermine the legitimacy of Israeli operations. The commando raid on the ship gave Netanyahu his little victory in the cold war between Israel and Iran: It was clean, without casualties, and the silence on the international scene has been translated as legitimating the operation.