Many commentators are giving kudos to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his sparkling speech at AIPAC, where he sounded like an American version of Shimon Peres waxing eloquent on the virtues of peace.
The problem is, when you don’t risk anything, people are less likely to take you seriously.
And in his speech, Bibi took few risks. He fed right into the cynical view that he will say whatever he has to say to balance all the conflicting forces around him—his Likud base, U.S. support, Israeli voters, etc.—so as to stay in power.
As a result, he made little progress in terms of advancing Israel’s diplomatic position. As things stand, much of the world—including President Obama—are putting the responsibility for the success of the peace process right in Bibi’s hands.
That, of course, is unfair, but Bibi’s protestations to the contrary made little difference. His money lines—it takes three to tango, durable peace, Jews have been here 4,000 years, etc.— sounded great but they moved neither mountains nor molehills.
There's an expression in marketing: Telling isn't selling. It's not enough to TELL the world that the Palestinians are the obstacle to peace-- you have to SHOW it.
Bibi could have done that with one word: YES.
Yes to the U.S. framework for peace.
Yes to the framework that Palestinians are guaranteed to reject.
He was given a gift of a “peace framework” that was the best possible deal Secretary of State could have given him; a non-binding framework with plenty of wiggle room; a deal that included recognition of Israel as a Jewish state; a deal that would have exposed Abbas as the true naysayer-- if only Bibi had played his poker hand.
But he couldn’t do it.
What’s crazy is that I’ve read many reports that Bibi, in private conversations with Kerry and other U.S. officials, has pretty much agreed to the framework.
If that is true, what a crying shame not to share that news with the world!
It’s apparent that Bibi wants to have his cake and eat it, too. He wants to give the impression that he agrees with the framework, without actually saying so. By harping on Palestinian rejectionism, he hopes to convince the world through the power of his argument.
It’s too late for that.
Being articulate can only get you so far-- especially when most of the world is already suspicious of your intentions.
Ironically, saying yes wouldn’t have posed that much of a risk, because Palestinians are virtually incapable of saying yes in return.
I know what you’re thinking. Israel has said yes in the past-- look at Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert—and it didn't get us anywhere. But it’s precisely because the world has such a short memory that Bibi needs to repeat the YES word. Bibi’s red lines are respected in Kerry’s framework—so it doesn’t matter if Abbas will “pocket” these concessions. The concessions are no worse than Olmert’s, which Abbas has already pocketed.
We're not talking here about a settlement freeze or releasing more terrorists from prison. We're talking about a bluff to expose the enemy.
Would Bibi take heat from his right and risk political upheaval by making this bluff? Of course, but that would only accentuate his courage and seriousness.
The key is that we’re nearing the end of a critical chapter, when, rightly or wrongly, the world is breathing down Israel’s neck, the White House still claims to have Israel's back, and the framework deadline is only weeks away.
If Israel is blamed now, it will be fed to the Wolves of Europe.
If Israel is blamed now, we can expect an international tsunami of diplomatic and legal sanctions and a boost to the malicious BDS movement.
The only way to blunt this tsunami is to avoid being blamed for the inevitable failure.
Considering that the Palestinians are pathologically committed to saying NO-- as they have always been-- it's criminal to have Israel being cast as the naysayer.
The spotlight must be put clearly and squarely on the Palestinians. Call it poker, chess, tennis, whatever you like-- but the ball must be put in Abbas' court. That is the only way to expose him as the true obstacle to peace.
If Israel ends up getting blamed, Bibi will have no one to blame but himself.
He can avoid that disaster by accepting America's non-binding peace framework.
Then all the eyes of the world will be where they belong: On Abbas-- the man who can only say no.