Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas blew it.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu handed him a major political victory on a platter and Abbas dropped it.
In his zeal to block a French-led effort to convene an international Middle East peace conference, Netanyahu told his French counterpart that such a meeting would be useless, but he's ready to "fly to Paris tomorrow" for one-on-one negotiations with the Palestinian leader.
We'll never find out if Netanyahu was really serious because instead of calling Netanyahu's bluff, the Palestinians rejected the offer out of hand.
Abbas walked into a trap cleverly set by Netanyahu. Come, let's talk right now, said the Israeli. No thanks, not interested, said the Palestinian.
The French are holding a planning meeting at the foreign minister level – minus the Israelis and Palestinians — in Paris Friday to talk about convening a peace conference later this fall. Secretary of State John Kerry plans to attend but the British, Germans and Russians are sending lower level officials, a sign that they don't take the idea very seriously. Neither does the White House, but the peripatetic Kerry can't resist running a fool's errand.
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah fell into Netanyahu's trap in their empty war of words about who really wants peace. I'm ready to talk and you guys aren't, was Bibi's familiar refrain. That may cheer the Israeli leader, but his ploy won't impress just about anybody else.
Hamdallah accused Netanyahu of just trying to "buy time… but this time he will not escape the international community.”
Guess again, Rami. He will. That's because Bibi knows Abbas isn't any more serious about cutting a deal than he is.
Abbas demands the UN set a date certain be set for concluding a deal and for the end of the occupation.
That's a poison pill the Israel and the United States will not swallow.
To Netanyahu, a deadline is an incentive for Abbas to run out the clock and hope the big powers – which he feels confident are more sympathetic to his positions than Israel's — will be so frustrated that they will try to impose a settlement on Israel.
On the other hand, without a deadline, Abbas has good reason to expect Netanyahu would drag out talks into the next millennium, all the while expanding settlements to the point that no land will be left for a viable, contiguous Palestinian state.
They're both right. Face it. There will be no peace agreement as long as these two are in power.
Bibi will keep saying he's ready for unconditional one-on-one talks, complete with his non-negotiable conditions, and Abbas will keep saying he wants to know the outcome before he walks into the room.
Imagine what would have happened if Abbas took the dare and showed up in Paris with a detailed and realistic peace proposal that the Europeans and Americans could support?
But forget it. That takes too much courage, something both leaders lack.