UPDATED: Apart from possible intra-Palestinian strife on the West Bank that would undoubtedly spill over into anti-Israeli terror attacks, adding still more to Israel’s security burden, Iran and allies Syria, Hizbullah, and Hamas actually fiercely oppose purported Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts and will use terror to derail them.
Already Tuesday night four Israeli civilians were killed in a shooting ambush on the West Bank for which Hamas claimed responsibility. The conventional piety that “sacrifices” are worth it on the way to peace, always morally repugnant, rings all the more hollow when peace is so chimerical.
On September 1, President Barack Obama, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and Jordan’s King Abdullah are set to launch the “Israeli-Palestinian direct talks” with a dinner at the White House.
There’s still hope — not much — that the talks won’t even get off the ground.
Abbas has been threatening that the Palestinian side will walk out of the talks if Israel resumes building in the West Bank after its ten-month moratorium on construction there expires on September 26. On Sunday, Netanyahu told ministers of his Likud Party that the construction will continue regardless. Officials in Washington reportedly “downplayed … Palestinian threats to bolt the talks over this issue.”
But aren’t such talks desirable in any case?
When it comes to these talks, no. They represent yet another triumph of hope over experience. If they do get going, they are likely to cause more harm than good.
Many commentators have exposed the fallacies behind the Obama administration’s relentless pursuit of these talks. Cal Thomas notes that all such efforts to resolve what is now called the “Israeli-Palestinian conflict” through talks and agreements — going back to 1936 and earlier — have not only failed but resulted in intensified Palestinian and Arab violence. Efraim Karsh underlines the fact that Abbas and his Fatah movement remain as adamantly opposed to Israel’s existence as Yasser Arafat was and as Hamas is today.
There are other problems, too:
1. The talks, if they proceed, will be held under the shadow of war. By festively launching its Bushehr nuclear reactor last August 21, Iran was making a mockery of Western attempts to thwart its nuclear ambitions via sanctions. Since then Tehran has been “rubbing it in” by unveiling a new weapon system almost daily, from bomber drones to missiles to long-range artillery shells. The Obama administration is said to have assured Israel that “Iran is at least a year away from the ‘breakout capability’ that would allow it to pursue a nuclear weapon.” But such an assurance — even if accurate, and some Israeli experts put the date sooner — is cold comfort.
In such a reality, and with Hamas, Hizbullah, the Lebanese army, and Syria (with Russian backing) also behaving aggressively on Israel’s borders, Israeli leaders need to focus first and foremost on security issues and not be sidelined into high-profile, demanding, controversy- and accusation-fraught, pointless talks.
And if the Obama administration still thinks somehow wrangling a Palestinian state out of these talks would mollify Iran and its friends, then its degree of reality-disconnect is indeed frightening.
2. The talks not only distract Israel’s leaders, but could threaten Israel’s political stability. Although Netanyahu’s avowals on resumed West Bank building may have temporarily reassured the more right-wing elements in his coalition, he is known to succumb to pressure. True, the gaps between the Israeli and Palestinian sides may be too wide for the talks to lead to a full-blown Israeli coalition crisis. But Netanyahu’s ceding on settlements or other issues could conceivably set such a crisis in motion.
No doubt — for Washington and others — the prospect of those more right-wing elements being replaced by the more dovish Kadima Party is appealing. The belief that Israeli pliability leads to peace rather than increased terror and war would seem to be belied by recent history, with its Second Intifada (2000-2005), Second Lebanon War (2006), and Gaza War (2008-2009).
But some faiths aren’t affected by facts.
Netanyahu’s coalition has been notably stable so far after frequent governmental changeovers, and is pursuing important reforms in education, the economy, and other fields. Further political upheaval, especially in the delicate security situation, is the last thing Israel needs. The talks with the Palestinians needlessly accentuat rifts in Israel and cause dissension, if not worse.
3. If the talks give an appearance of progress, or just continue to be held at all, they can spark conflict in Palestinian society as well, except there it’s likely to be violent. The Arab affairs correspondent of Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot already describes “wall-to-wall criticism on the Palestinian street against direct talks with Israel.” The Jerusalem Post reported earlier in August that “in a statement issued in the West Bank … representatives of dozens of Palestinian factions … warned Abbas against succumbing to pressure” to enter the talks.
In brief, the talks spell trouble and are a tunnel with no light flickering at the end. Ideally, Netanyahu should be prepared to let them fail — and even be blamed for it — if the alternatives are worse. He has a hard time saying no and doesn’t want to disappoint Obama, but if he wants to be a real leader he may have to do both.