April 13, 2010
Bibi’s Next Move
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how Mahmoud Abbas “bamboozled” Benjamin Netanyahu by playing hard to get and refusing to come to the peace table. Abbas’ move precipitated an unfortunate tug of war between the United States and Israel, as the new Obama administration, eager to win favor with the Arab world, pressed Israel for more and more concessions to get the talks going.
Now, with Bibi virtually trapped between the demands of a powerful ally and the constraints of his coalition, I’ve been wondering: Can Bibi get out of this trap and improve Israel’s position?
I think the answer is yes, but only if Bibi shows guts and cunning. So far, that hasn’t been the case. Bibi has played it safe by trying to make everyone happy, and it has backfired. With the wily Abbas sitting back and enjoying the show, Bibi has let the spotlight shine on him as the big obstacle to peace.
And the clock is ticking. With Israel unable to break the logjam, the Palestinians are threatening to declare statehood, and there are reports that the Americans might even unilaterally impose a plan.
Alone on stage and running out of tricks, what should Bibi do now?
Here’s my crazy idea: Skip the concessions and put a final peace plan on the table.
That’s right, a final peace plan that would end the conflict once and for all. Announce the plan at a major press conference with Ehud Barak at your side, and tell Mahmoud Abbas the following: “Sign here, Mr. Abbas, and the conflict is over.”
The peace plan should be based on the Clinton Parameters, which followed years of hard negotiations and lays out what is widely recognized as the most reasonable compromise for a two-state solution.
What they do really well is say no.
And why not? Saying no for so long has put their Israeli rivals constantly on the defensive, made the Palestinians the world’s loudest victims and brought them billions in foreign aid. It’s also gotten them a slew of free concessions from Israel that they just pocket until the next concession. Why ruin this great pattern?
But let’s imagine for a moment that Abbas would want to say yes. How could he? Considering he has little authority in his own backyard and zero authority with Hamas in Gaza, how could he pretend to represent his divided people? What would he do — meet with his sworn enemies in Gaza and seek their blessing to end the conflict with the hated Zionists? Go to millions of his own people and confess they’ve been lied to all these years and they will not, in fact, get their “right of return”?
There’s a good reason you never see Abbas sticking his neck out: He hates the thought of going to the guillotine.
When you consider the Palestinians’ track record of saying no to every Israeli peace offer — including offers that would have made East Jerusalem the Palestinian capital and expelled about 100,000 Jewish settlers to make way for a Palestinian state — it’s hard to take seriously the accusation that a few permits for Jewish apartments in Jerusalem are blocking the peace process.
Bibi’s toughest challenge will be to get his right-wing coalition on board. He should remind them of two things: One, it’s critical that Israel get America and the world off its back so it can focus on the urgent threat of a nuclear Iran, and two, they should hardly expect the Palestinians to suddenly take yes for an answer.
In any event, his coalition needs to realize that the current situation is untenable. Continuing to play for time is just putting Israel in a deeper hole. At this point, Israel’s only chance is to smoke out the other side with a serious offer so that Obama and the rest of the world will see the real obstacle to peace — a Palestinian entity that is incapable of saying yes to ending the conflict.
Israel has stuck its neck out several times over the years trying to make peace, even offering to end the occupation. Those offers have always been met with Palestinian refusals. Now that Israel is being blamed for the failure of the peace process, it’s time to put the spotlight on the Palestinian role in this failure.
In other words, it’s time for the Palestinians to come up on stage — and show the world whether they can do anything besides say no.