Postscript on the Israeli-Palestinian Talks: Future Scenarios
Akiva Eldar, co-author of the best seller Lords of the Land on the Jewish settlements, is now a columnist for Al-Monitor’s Israel Pulse. For years he was the senior political columnist and editorial writer for Haaretz. He also served as its US bureau chief and diplomatic correspondent. We spoke on the phone yesterday in a communal telephone call courtesy of Americans for Peace Now. (http://peacenow.org/audio/Akiva_briefing_9-Dec-2013.mp3)
Akiva opened the conversation with a comment on Bibi Netanyahu’s statement at the Saban Forum in Washington this past Saturday linking the Israeli-Palestinian talks with what happens on the Iranian front. This linkage could be interpreted in at least two opposite ways. First, it could mean that if progress could be made on the Iran front, then it would encourage progress on the Israeli-Palestinian talks. However, Netanyahu posed the opposite linkage and threatened that the I-P talks will come to nothing if the Geneva agreement stays in place and proves itself the great historical mistake he prophesied and Iran is given a license to build a bomb.
Netanyahu often cites the Islamic republic’s repeated talk of Israel’s destruction as a reason to be more cautious in peacemaking with the Palestinians. “Our aspiration for peace is liable to be severely affected if Iran succeeds” in winning a relaxation of penalties that have devastated its economy, he said in an Oct. 23 Twitter message. The linkage is then negative, not positive. (See the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg News – mobile.bloomberg.com/…/palestinian-peace-talks…iranian-accord.html, 2013-11-25 and http://www.newsmaxworld.com/GlobalTalk/iran-deal-israel-palestinian-talks/…· Israeli-Palestinian peace talks may suffer collateral damage from the accord world powers reached with Iran. With the weekend agreement in Geneva, “Netanyahu probably won’t feel a strong commitment anymore to negotiating with the Palestinians under American supervision,” said Yoram Meital, chairman of the ChaimHerzogCenter for Middle East Studies and Diplomacy at Ben-GurionUniversity in Beersheba, Israel. “He’s not going to announce this publicly, but he’s never shown much enthusiasm for the talks.”
As an aside, Akiva was asked about the denial by Dan Shapiro, the US Ambassador to Israel, whether he insisted that there was no linkage. (Cf. “US ambassador rejects talk of Iran-Palestinian ‘linkage’: “While some Israeli officials endorse the connection, Dan Shapiro says peace process has no bearing on efforts to deny Iran the bomb.”
http://www.timesofisrael.com/us-ambassador-rejects-talk-of-iran-palestinian-linkage/), Akiva remonstrated Dan Shapiro for not being in closer touch with the State Department and the White House where he insisted that both Kerry and Obama made such a linkage, even though an unnamed State Department official insisted that Kerry saw no linkage between the two sets of talks. Further, the Israeli papers insisted that Obama made a linkage (www.israelherald.com/index.php/sid/217311686/scat/f81a4d9d561822ee), but, in fact, Obama was simply stating that there was a commonality in both talks since both were concerned with reducing the level of violence in the middle east. He was NOT linking the two causally in any way. (www.israel.com/news/…linkage-of-iran-and–israelipalestinian-peace)
Why is the issue of a linkage important? Because if the linkage is negative, it means that Netanyahu is more determined than ever to sabotage the Israeli-Palestinian talks. In other words, the linkage is not between the talks per se but in the reactions of various parties to the success or failure of each set of talks. However, this is not the linkage that Akiva suggested.
While applauding the fact that Netanyahu now acceded to a linkage that he had previously denied, Akiva interpreted Netanyahu’s actions as an attempt to throw a wrench into the peace talks but in a different way than suggested above. Bibi’s red line on the Iranian talks was too demanding and could never produce an agreement through diplomatic means acceptable to his Israeli government since it would mean Iran giving up both its nuclear and enrichment program altogether. Netanyahu wants Iran to surrender and to be humiliated to boot. The linkage was an intention to sabotage and undercut BOTH sets of talks.
Akiva suggested that the dependency between the two sets of talks went the other way, that progress on the Israeli-Palestinian talks would facilitate a rapprochement with Iran. Further, as Akiva interpreted Bibi’s position on the peace talks, Bibi was still determined that the talks go nowhere and remained wedded to a stalling and obstructionist participation. The Iran talks are dependent on the Israeli-Palestinian talks because the latter are not just about security for the Jewish state but are intended to alter the relations between Israel and the Palestinians and put an end to Iranian support of terrorism in the Middle East. The nuclear talks with Iran are the entry point to a wider campaign for peace in the whole Middle East.
Akiva and I agree on the following:
1. The Israeli-Palestinian peace talks are at a new stage as they approach the final trimester of the nine month schedule (to end by the end of April), and that John Kerry and Barack Obama will not be content with saying they gave it their best efforts and walk away; they are determined to succeed.
2. These talks are intended to end the conflict, end the occupation, the expansion of the settlements, settle the division of Jerusalem, the return of refugees and define the borders; there is to be a final agreement even if the agreement is intended to be implemented in stages; As David Markovsky, who recently joined Kerry’s negotiating team on the Israeli-Palestinian talks has written, “The only way to deal with the settlement issue is to render it moot by widening it to peacemaking and heading straight into the final negotiations on territory.”
3. The new security proposals that the Americans put on the table (but only after previous discussions with both Abbas and Netanyahu) accepted the Jordan River as the border of Palestine, therefore eliminating the possibility of an Israeli presence if Palestinian sovereignty was to be respected.
4. In the third phase of the talks, 26 more Palestinians of the original 4,446 held in detention are due to be released; Kerry and Obama do not want blood on their hands if those released resume their previous militancy; therefore, with the prisoner releases, the stakes in a successful outcome have been raised enormously.
For Akiva, Netanyahu has been in such a big and noisy row with the United States over the Iran talks because his red line means that the talks would be doomed to failure for no Iranian regime would accept total destruction of its nuclear enrichment program and loss of all its centrifuges. Bibi was counting on the divisions between the White House and Congress to allow him to exploit those differences and sabotage the Iranian talks. It has not worked. this time.
On the Palestinian peace front, to succeed a deal needs to be struck soon with the last few months used to tweak the details. Further, this is a last chance since Abbas is 76 years old. If Netanyahu refuses to go along with the deal and surrenders to or agrees with the pressures from his right wing partners in the government. Livni and Lapid will leave the government and a new government will have to be formed. Since the Israeli partnership with the USA is not simply a foundation for Israeli foreign policy but an existential condition of Israel’s continued existence, a political war between the Israeli government and Israel would be a disaster for Israel and might propel Israel to move away and reject the right drift.
Here is where I disagree with Akiva while granting that Akiva knows much more about Netanyahu’s personality and motives than I will ever know. He sees Netanyahu as a staunch and determined old Likudnik unwilling to surrender control of the West Bank. Any optimism about Netanyahu ignores the main goal of this enterprise as Akiva has written — “to entrench Israeli control over the territory while damaging the collective and individual rights of Palestinians.” For Akiva, “The time has come for Makovsky and his colleagues on the American peace team to understand that the settlement policy is not ‘foolishness.’ It is an intentional, clear and winning policy.”
In contrast, I see Netanyahu more as a pragmatist coming from the right but unwilling to sacrifice his political future and his legacy for dated and no longer realizable right wing expansionist ideals. Further, Kerry and Obama can both count. They need a number on the right to support the deal if it is not to blow up in their faces. So if Lapid and Livni leave the government and the government falls, Netanyahu will lose both his political future and his legacy. I agree that Lapid and Livni will not stay in the government if Netanyahu sabotages the peace talks. That is why I suggest that Netanyahu will support the results of the talks.