The White House probably didn’t expect to cash its check so soon.
US envoy George Mitchell has landed in Jerusalem to oversee the Palestinian Authority’s final review before entering “indirect negotiations” with Israel. Set to begin next week, if the green light is given, Mitchell will shuttle between Netanyahu’s envoy Yitzhak Molcho in Jerusalem and the PA’s chief negotiator Sa’eb Erekat in Ramallah.
Vice President Joe Biden will reinforce him on Monday.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu eagerly welcomed his arrival, calling Biden, “a friend of Israel for many years and a personal friend for almost three decades... I am convinced that this important visit to our region will contribute to advancing the diplomatic process, and there are indications to this effect.”
There are - if America and Israeli’s illusion had worked. To no surprise their facade is already close to shattering on the Temple Mount.
Negotiations have begun by the sound of Erekat, who said of yesterday's raid on the Al-Aqsa Mosque, “We see this aggression against our people and holy sites as the Israeli response. Today's aggression is simply the conclusion of a week where Israel did everything possible to tell us they are not serious about peace.”
“Following Arab willingness to engage in proximity talks towards peace, the ball is now in the court of the international community and the United States to take action in response to Israeli aggression and ensure a conductive environment for peace negotiations. This can only be done if Israel is held accountable to international law and its obligations under the Road Map, including a full settlement freeze and end to violence.”
Erakat isn’t talking generically about international law or the “Road Map,” if it can be called that. In order to persuade President Abbas to agree to “indirection negotiations,” the White House was forced to include in its document, “We expect both parties to act seriously and in good faith. If one side, in our judgment, is not living up to our expectations, we will make our concerns clear and we will act accordingly to overcome that obstacle.”
In other words, U.S. vows to assign blame if Israel-PA talks fail.
But such a feeble contract speaks to how low the peace process has fallen under President Obama’s watch (the "agreement" has already been denied by the State Department). The Palestinians are unlikely to be the ones to hinder “indirection negotiations,” so this clause is primarily for Israel at Abbas’ insistence, who had refused to enter any agreement without some form of guarantee.
So the question becomes: what if Israel does scuttle the talks? Will America renege or finally call out Israel on the world stage?
This is immediately relevant since “red lines” have already been crossed. The day after America’s self-congratulatory effort to restart the peace process, Israeli security forces raided religious sites on the Temple Mount for the second time in a week.
The circumstances are sketchy as both sides cry foul, but even if Palestinians did instigate the conflict by throwing rocks at Jewish worshipers, they were responding to two weeks of constant Israeli aggression in the West Bank. Israel enjoys inflaming Palestinians and then dousing them.
Despite its promise of “minimum force,” Israeli police have also vowed a “firm hand” against Jerusalem protesters, or as Israel calls them, rioters. Seemingly clueless, Israel is trying to treat the situation in a vacuum.
But Palestinians and their allies know that Israel knows exactly what it’s doing. Abbas issued a special statement overnight, on the eve of Mitchell’s arrival and the Palestinian’s review, calling Israeli police “the occupation army.” He accused Israel’s “escapades” of aiming to provoke “a religious war in the region.”
According to his statement released by his office, Abbas warned, “Israeli forces are crossing every red line in an attempt to avoid restarting peace negotiations, especially following the decision by the Arab follow-up committee of the Arab League to resume the peace talks."
He then called on America and the international community to intervene, cool off rising tensions, and prevent violence from escalating beyond control.
Obama is at a crossroads less than three days into his scheme, a clear sign that it hasn’t been thought out to the end. Why wasn’t Israel told not to do anything provocative? Or does it simply not listen to America? Does Mitchell say anything? Does Biden stand up to Netanyahu as the Palestinians’ demand?
Obama risks Netanyahu pulling out as soon as the White House comes down on Israel, and if not, he could get a red light from the Palestinians at the last second. America would then be forced once more to assign blame or go silent, an unstable cycle.
In reality this may be the Palestinians’ strategy. Erekat has thrown the ball back to the international community, but he must achieve the realization of seizing the ball. You’ve intentionally forced Israel and America into agreements they couldn’t hold. Having vouched for Israel’s actions, the blame falls on America this time.
The Palestinians must call out Obama if he doesn’t call out Israel, then they should start talking unilateral statehood again. This will either pressure America to respond or independently advance the Palestinian cause.
A US statement doesn’t seem likely at the moment, although we could get blind-sided by one early tomorrow. The UN Security Council passed a statement on Friday urging Israel to restrain itself in the West Bank during this critical phase of negotiations. The Palestinian observer, Riyad Mansour, welcomed America’s decision not to block the motion, generously describing the move as “a signal that the United States wants this effort to succeed.”
But according to the Haaretz and Reuters, a U.S. official said the delegation, “had not agreed with the statement and said it was adopted due to what the official described as ‘procedural confusion.’”
Apparently only through procedural confusion will America stand down in the international community’s attempt to restrain Israel. We’ll see what happens, but none of this bodes well for Obama’s weekend let alone the next four months. He’s trapped himself in his illusion more than everyone else.
The Palestinians should be ready to pounce in the UN and Arab League if they catch him.