Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Has Liberal Washington Figured Out the Palestinians?

by Jonathan S. Tobin

During the course of his first year and a half in office, President Barack Obama demonstrated time and again that he was not shy about placing pressure on Israel. Having picked fights with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over Jewish settlements in the West Bank soon after both men assumed their posts in 2009, and then again in 2010, over a housing start in Jerusalem during a visit to Israel by Vice President Joseph Biden, Obama’s antipathy for the Israeli government is well established. But in spite of this, something interesting is happening in Washington as the peace talks promoted by Obama have foundered on the question of whether Israel will agree to renew a freeze on settlements as a precondition for the Palestinians’ continued presence at the table: Israel isn’t being blamed for the mess.

Some in the administration and even the established media have stumbled upon the fact that, as Ben Smith wrote yesterday in Politico, the problem is “the Palestinian insistence that one issue — settlements — be resolved before talks can begin.” This means that “Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is now feeling some of the heat reserved last year for Netanyahu, and facing the prospect that if he fulfills his promise to withdraw from talks, he will bear the full blame for their collapse.” Smith even quotes Palestinian propagandist Hussein Ibish as admitting that the “onus is on the Palestinians not to walk away.”

Previous negotiations have always foundered on the Palestinians’ refusal to take yes for an answer, since in 2000 and again in 2008 their leaders refused Israeli offers of a state and territory that included most of the West Bank, all of Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem. Given the importance that Obama has put on this latest round of talks, which he has promoted, it was crucial for Abbas to see to it that the talks’ eventual failure (since fail they must, as Abbas knows he cannot sell even the most generous peace accord to his followers or his Hamas rivals) would be credited to Netanyahu, who was already disliked by the administration. But Abbas’s attempt to scuttle Obama’s show by not engaging in talks until the last weeks before the settlement freeze was ready to expire has apparently backfired. Though Abbas was probably confident that he could outmaneuver Netanyahu, he has failed, and as Smith says, the “arrow” indicating blame is now pointing to Abbas. As disliked as Netanyahu may be by both the Washington media and the White House, it is now more than obvious even in those quarters that whether or not the PA president walks out of the talks, Abbas has little interest in good-faith negotiations.

Just as important is that the tilt in the blame game illustrates the utter bankruptcy of the attempts by the left-wing J Street lobby to bring pressure to bear on the Israeli government and undermine its base of support in Congress and among American Jews.

There are many reasons for the Soros-funded group’s failure, such as its lack of a viable constituency and the deft maneuvering of Netanyahu, which enabled him to weather a period of insult and pressure from Obama while maintaining a solid base of support at home. But most of all, J Street’s failure must be credited to the Palestinians, whose insincerity and fundamental inability to make peace with a Jewish state, no matter where its borders may be drawn, renders the leftist group’s agenda of pressure on Israel pointless.

Jonathan S. Tobin

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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