by Daniel Pipes
If low-level diplomats, not prime ministers, negotiate with Abbas and the assorted other villains and self-styled Palestinian leaders, the world would be constantly reminded not of a sham parallel but of the vast moral and power gulf dividing the two sides.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's decision to visit Jerusalem but not Ramallah has prompted much comment.
The expectation of equal treatment goes back to the Oslo Accords' signing in September 1993, when Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, representing his government, shook hands with Yasser Arafat, the much-despised chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, on the White House lawn. No one found that strange or inappropriate then, but things look different nearly a quarter-century later.
As the elected head of a democratic and sovereign government, Rabin never should have consented to Arafat, the henchman of an unofficial, dictatorial, murderous organization, being given equal status with himself.
Rather, he should have stayed aloof. Appearing together created a dysfunctional illusion of equivalence that over subsequent decades has became assumed, ingrained and unquestioned. This false equivalence has became even more inaccurate with time, as Israel has gone from one success to another and the Palestinian Authority has brought on a reign of ever-deeper anarchy, dependency, and repression.
It's not just that Israel stands among the world leaders in science, technology, the humanities, the arts, military power and intelligence capabilities, not just that its economy is 25 times larger than the Palestinian one; Israel is a land where the rule of law applies to all (at one point until recently, a former president and a former prime minister were simultaneously sitting in prison) and individual rights are not just promised but delivered. Meanwhile, the head of the Palestinian Authority, presently in the 12th year of his four-year term, has been unable to prevent both creeping anarchy in the West Bank and a rogue group from taking over in Gaza, half of his putative domain.
Some would defend Rabin's self-imposed humiliation by arguing that he sought to strengthen Arafat and the PLO through pomp and pageantry. If this was indeed the plan, it backfired spectacularly. Rather than use the prestige of the Oslo signing ceremony to build a constituency that accepts the Jewish state and end the Palestinians' conflict with it, Arafat exploited his heightened standing to develop new resources to reject Zionism and attack Israel. Palestinian embassies popped up worldwide to delegitimize Israel, and Palestinians killed more Israelis in the five years after the Oslo signing than in the 15 years before it. In other words, Rabin recklessly put faith in a historic and barbaric enemy changing not just tactics but goals. Israel has paid a heavy price for this error.
Rather than the prime minister, the Israeli standing with Arafat on the White House lawn should have been a mere second secretary from the Israeli Embassy in Norway. That would have delivered the necessary signal about Arafat's place in the diplomatic hierarchy. To be sure, that would have meant no Nobel Peace Prize for Rabin, but in retrospect, would it not have been better to skip celebrating so exuberantly a flawed, doomed, and destructive agreement?
For good measure, the signing ceremony should have taken place in modest Oslo, not grand Washington, the hometown of the world's only superpower.
Had this precedent been set in 1993, today's false parity between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas would not exist and the true imbalance of the Palestinian-Israeli relationship might be more clearly seen. If low-level diplomats, not prime ministers, negotiate with Abbas and the assorted other villains and self-styled Palestinian leaders, the world would be constantly reminded not of a sham parallel but of the vast moral and power gulf dividing the two sides.
Is it too late? Can Netanyahu or a future Israeli prime minister escape the indignity of having to meet as equals with the leader of a gangster enterprise?
No, it's not too late. Netanyahu could eloquently explain that he will meet his legitimate counterparts, but he will leave it to functionaries in the Foreign Ministry to handle whoever the Palestinian Authority throws up.
Imagine the benefits of such a step: Israel would gain in stature while the fetid nature of the PA would be exposed. American presidents would lose interest in the "ultimate deal." Other assorted would-be mediators and do-gooders would have a much harder time trying to revive a quarter-century of botched negotiations.
I suggest Israeli prime ministers leave "peace-processing" with Palestinian hooligans to low-ranking staff.
Daniel Pipes is president of the Middle East Forum. Twitter @DanielPipes.
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