One phrase in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict’s lexicon that irritates many of the activist persuasion to no end is “both sides.” “Both sides need to come together to make this work…both sides are at fault here,” we often hear. What bothers some about this phrase is that it ignores the very obvious and lopsided power distribution: Israel is among the the most militarily powerful nations in the world, and the Palestinians are a stateless and divided people.
This assessment is only true if Israel views a Palestinian state in itself as a threat. If we are to trust Benjamin Netanyahu’s public declarations, we know this is not true. He fears, and not unreasonably so, an unstable Palestinian state ripe for unwanted Iranian influence. That it is simply Israel’s responsibility to leave the occupied territories is a gross oversimplification of the talks. There are plenty of Palestinian concessions that are required for a mutual peace agreement, from right of return to strategic land swaps.
The truth is both sides are indeed at fault, at least for the latest round of talks. And the former U.S. envoy to the peace talks, Martin Indyk, agrees. In fact, he summed it up quite nicely in one line today: “The status quo was more preferable for both leaders than taking the tough compromises”.
Netanyahu, who has a stable coalition so long as the peace process doesn’t ignite it, has little reason to compromise, although Indyk said Netanyahu became serious later on (coincidentally, this was when Abbas began to “shut down”). Mahmoud Abbas, who is also under no pressure to compromise with Israel, was in it mostly for the prisoner releases that came along with the restarting of the talks. When Israel halted the release of the fourth round of prisoners, the talks no longer had immediate political value. As Ari Shavit is correct to point out, Abbas has a history of failing to show his cards and articulate negotiable positions. Not being Yassir Arafat is not enough to seal an agreement.
The phrase that should actually be bothering us is, “We can’t want a peace agreement more than they do,” because that want is precisely what is needed. Without American leadership, specifically an American framework with the endorsements of former Israeli and Palestinian officials, the peace process will continue to go nowhere. And both sides are at fault.