When Yes Means No

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week unequivocally rejected the French proposal for a Middle East peace conference involving some two dozen nations to be held in Paris this summer.  He said the only way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is by "direct bilateral negotiations" and he's "ready immediately to begin" talks "without any preconditions."

That may be what he said, but it's not what he meant.

The French say their goal is to revive negotiations for a two-state solution.

Since Netanyahu announced his support for the concept at Bar Ilan University in 2009 he has not once asked his coalition partners, not even his inner cabinet or his own Likud Party, to endorse the policy.  And despite offering negotiations without preconditions he has been piling on the conditions, some valid and others designed to elicit Palestinian rejection. 

Netanyahu speaks abroad about the two-state solution, but at home he told Israeli voters he would make sure it never happened. In the wake of international criticism, he tried to walk that back after the election, but few weren't buying it, especially when Netanyahu proceeded to form the most right wing coalition in Israeli history, heavily weighted with ultra-nationalists and religious extremists adamantly opposed to Palestinian statehood.

For someone with no preconditions, Netanyahu has declared the status of Jerusalem is off the table and there can be no deal unless the Palestinians recognize Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people, a condition many Israeli analysts consider a deliberate deal breaker.

He has more demands and so does his Palestinian counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas, starting with his demand that Israel accept his terms on core issues in advance. Palestinians are insisting on full right of return for refugees and their descendants since 1948. 

Both sides have shown flexibility in private, but instead of locking up what they agree to, each new round of talks brings demands to start all over again at square one.  That is just another stalling tactic.

What they're really looking for is not a path to peace but a detour to divert blame for failure.

Abbas also poisons the atmosphere for talks when he accuses Israel of "Judaizing" Jerusalem, denies Jewish ties to the city and the existence of the Temples, accuses Israel of war crimes, mounts attacks in international agencies, and by honoring those who murder Jews as martyrs and heroes. He exacerbates the problem by his refusal to halt anti-Israel incitement in Palestinian media, schools and mosques as well as his own speeches.

Each leader complains that he has no partner for peace, and he's right.

President Obama believes "Netanyahu has no political courage and won't take risks to bring about a two-state solution," Jeffrey Goldberg wrote in the Atlantic after extensive White House interviews.  The president sees Abbas as "sincere" about wanting peace but too "weak, ineffective and uncreative" to make a deal, Goldberg noted.

Next month marks the beginning of the 50th year of the occupation, and peace seems as elusive as ever.

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.