It’s conceivable that within the next nine days the Middle East peace process, in a nosedive since Israel refused to release a fourth round of Arab-Israeli prisoners earlier this month, will be rescued. It’s also plausible that they will not, and the much-awaited blame game will commence. The last two prominent collapses, in Camp David in 2000 and the Bush administration’s 2007-8 effort, saw the blame placed squarely on the Palestinians. This time will be different.
While there are more important factors to consider in the collapse of negotiations, the potential outbreak of violence being the most important and least predictable, it’s pretty clear what Prime Minister Netanyahu intended to use these talks for: “to expose the real face of the Palestinian Authority”.
It’s not surprising that the goal of any side would be to torpedo and delay any tough decisions and cast the blame on the other. It’s that Netanyahu failed so remarkably––and that he should have known better.
Israel was in no position to balk on releasing prisoners. It’s excuse, that the talks were yielding little progress and that the Palestinians were going to walk away at the end of April anyway, is hardly valid. Of course Mr. Netanyahu wasn’t going to be honest and say that his junior coalition partner was going to tank the government if the prisoners were released (a release of prisoners that, of course, would not be happening if it were not for said junior coalition partner’s dogmatic opposition to a settlement freeze), but creating a new condition for a commitment already made is asking to come out on the wrong side of the blame game.
Netanyahu set out a trap that was designed to catch former PLO chairman Yasser Arafat. His successor, Mahmoud Abbas, has refrained from taking extreme measures. His response to Israel’s failure to release the prisoners was to sign various innocuous international treaties. Indeed, it would be great if he follows through on some of them, particularly the treaty to combat corruption.
Netanyahu isn’t the first Israeli leader to oversee the collapse of peace talks. But he will be the first Israeli to take the lion’s share of the blame. And I can’t imagine why he doesn’t deserve every bit of it.