December 7, 2010

Israel’s Rejection Should Wake White House

The following days will produce a wealth of information (and disinformation) attempting to explain today’s events. So without getting too far ahead, is the latest failure in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations all that it seems? One can make a strong case that this time is different - that U.S. stagnation has already ignited an international chain-reaction that could end on the UN’s floor.

Viewed another way and the situation doesn’t appear to have changed at all.

An immediate illusion distorts the concept of negotiations. Israel and the Palestinians haven’t negotiated with themselves since President Barack Obama came into office, but through proxies such as U.S. envoy George Mitchell, foreign governments, and the international media. Direct talks never got off the ground in September and automatically reverted the proxy system. Shortly afterward the Palestinians were largely cut out as Israel negotiated its own terms with Washington, to be offered as take-it-or-leave it negotiations.

U.S. officials are now hinting at indirect negotiations again - as if this isn’t the present situation.

So why would Israel refuse the White House’s offer, having been personally drafted by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, State Secretary Hillary Clinton, and a handful of select Israeli insiders, namely Dennis Ross. Can it be that Israel actually realized that the Palestinians would reject its claim over East Jerusalem and have decided to accept fairer terms? If only.

Netanyahu’s cabinet likely needs even more incentives to feast upon.

Washington shouldn’t oblige, but past evidence is far from assuring. Israel’s latest refusal to halt settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem affirms the theory that the Obama administration has fed a monster. Drunk on the power of shaking down Washington, Netanyahu and company believe they can secure even more favorable terms over the Palestinians. Obama has yet to demonstrate the will to defy the Israeli lobby, Congress, and his own advisers, but Netanyahu needs some Lebron-type treatment to break his egotistical ways.

The key variable is the shrinking tolerance of the Palestinians and international community, which will determine just how significant the latest delay is. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has waited longer than he probably should have to pull the plug on U.S. negotiations, although the lack of alternatives justifies waiting as a temporary option. But he appears to be reaching his limit with the PLO and Hamas breathing down his neck, and is summoning the international community to rescue him.

Israel’s rejection is a slap in the face, and the White House must learn from its latest PR disaster instead of repeating its mistakes. That is, if Obama doesn’t want to leave office empty handed like every other president. And break his promise to the Palestinians that he mistakenly believes he’s kept.

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