After decades, perhaps centuries, in which we, Jews, have been able to count on the Arabs to rescue us from the catastrophic errors of our own leaders by committing even worse errors—as the late Abba Eban put it: The Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity—we may be up against the first Arab who is a whole lot better than us at using opportunities, and how.
Mahmoud Abbas, whom Arabs and Israelis call by his nom de guerre Abu Mazen, has figured out how to outmaneuver his opponent, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and how to defeat the greatest democracy with the strongest army in the region. Frankly, the only real hope Israel has at the moment is that some Palestinian idiot would assassinate the crafty Abbas, and leave Netanyahu to deal with leaders to whom he can measure up.
Secretary of State John Kerry is coming to town next week, ready to twist Israeli arms, and we might as well face up to it: the Obama and Kerry visits have been planned as a one-two punch, with Abu Mazen being heavily prompted to let America do the job for him.
When Barack Obama was making nice with our children in Jerusalem, he made a statement that, at the time, sounded like a rebuke to the Palestinians, who had been insisting that the precondition to renewing talks on peace with the Israelis is a new settlement freeze.
That one was right out of Abba Eban’s book of missing opportunities. Netanyahu tried a settlement freeze early on in his second term. It didn’t bring the Arabs to the table, but it did create a fervent resentment against him among settlers, who responded by doubling Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home Knesset faction, all at the expense of Bibi’s Likud party.
Palestinian sovereignty and Israeli security are “the core issue,” Obama told Abbas in Ramallah. “If we solve those two problems, the settlement problem will be solved.”
It wasn’t a rebuke, it was golden advise, it was the kind of strategic thinking the Palestinians had not been able to generate, with the glaring exception of the UN assembly statehood vote – which was Abu Mazen’s brainchild, he managed to break the fundamental rules of the Oslo Accords and got away with it relatively unscathed.
Now the PA president has announced that he won’t be asking for settlements freeze as a precondition, he wants to see a map instead. Let Mr. Netanyahu bring to the first meeting of the new round of negotiations his version of where the new Palestinian state should be.
It sounds so harmless. After all, what’s more logical than starting the wheeling and dealing with each side showing where they think the new border should run in the future. One side wants this much, the other side wants only this much – and they’ll reach a compromise.
In reality, this demand robs Netanyahu of his entire arsenal of negotiation moves. In Netanyahu’s play book, you get to map drawing in the distant future, years from now, after a lengthy series of small moves, tweaks, minute gestures, back and forth. If he shows his map at the start, then the future borders become the one and only topic of negotiations, everything else is moot, the battle has been lost before it began.
Meanwhile, AFP reports, President Mahmoud Abbas will temporarily refrain from unilateral action against Israel at the UN and other international arenas, to give U.S.-brokered peace talks a chance to resume.
For a couple of months, the Palestinians will nobly “refrain from taking a case against Israel to the International Criminal Court,” an anonymous Palestinian source told AFP.
But the same official warned that if Israel failed to halt settlement building, the PA would immediately begin working through the international bodies again.
“Settlement building in E1 is a red line and erecting so much as one stone in the area … would destroy the two-state solution,” he said.
Speaking of stones, the PA has been utilizing those very well, along with firebombs, sending bands of angry, unemployed youths to literally get themselves killed by challenging IDF units all across Judea and Samaria. Two Arab teenagers have already been killed, and young Arabs in the Hebron area continued to clash with Israeli troops all day Thursday, protesting the death of Maysara Abu Hamdiyeh, who was serving a long prison sentence for attempted murder, in Israeli custody. Abu Hamdiyeh died from cancer which the Israeli prison system failed to cure.