From Haaretz’s Barak Ravid we have this report today, which says that Israel’s perennially pro-peace politician Yossi Beilin has been telling his colleagues in the Meretz party that PM Netanyahu is working with US special peace envoy George Mitchell to ready yet another round of peace “negotiations”.
Okay, okay. Don’t hold your breath. Planning for peace “negotiations” is, as we all know, not at all the same thing as working for a speedy, final, and just peace agreement. “Negotiations”, after all, have been going on almost non-stop since the Madrid Conference of October 1991… And in that 18 years of talks, agreement has been reached on precisely none of the numerous items on the Palestine-Israel peace agenda, while the number of Israeli settlers in occupied east Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank has just about tripled.
So who’s kidding whom here?
On Tuesday, by the way, Netanyahu is scheduled to be in Cairo, where he’s apparently going to try to sell his “plan” to the Egyptian government. (While there, will he give his governmental hosts a few pats on the back for the help they’ve been giving him in maintaining the tight siege on Gaza, I wonder?)
What’s mainly interesting about the latest Haaretz report, meanwhile, is what Ravid says in it– accurately or not, I don’t know– about the high degree of coordination that Netanyahu claims he enjoys with George Mitchell.
If even half of what Beilin told Ravid about the closeness of this coordination is true, then the Obama administration is pursuing a far worse Palestine-Israel diplomacy than I ever feared.
Ravid attested to Beilin’s credibility in knowing what Netanyahu is up to by noting that he had “revealed Netanyahu’s plan to declare a 10-month freeze on settlement construction a week before the prime minister made the announcement.”
Ravid continues thus:
[Beilin] said at a closed meeting of the Meretz leadership that Netanyahu and his special envoy for negotiations with the Palestinians, Yitzhak Molcho, had completed most of the work on the terms of reference for negotiations with the Palestinians during meetings with U.S. envoy George Mitchell.
Ravid also reported that,
when asked about Beilin’s statements, a senior U.S. administration official said: “Things are moving in this direction, but the deal isn’t done yet. There are several issues still outstanding.”
I would like to ask a few questions here:
- Who on earth is in charge of this relationship? Which of these two countries, Israel and the U.S., is the superpower and which is the minor regional actor? Which is the one that provides massive and irreplaceable amounts of financial, military, and political aid to the other?
- How can the U.S.– under Obama or any other president– claim to acting “fairly” if it pre-coordinates its plans with one party to this conflict?
- What about the requirements of international law in all this?
Ravid gives a number of further details of Netanyahu’s position (as reported by Beilin). They include these:
Netanyahu is willing to accept the U.S. proposal to allot 24 months to talks, but doesn’t want to announce that the goal is to reach a deal by the end of that period. (!!!)
… Netanyahu has agreed that the status of Jerusalem will be discussed in the negotiations, but has not agreed to any preconditions on the issue. (!!!)
… Netanyahu said he was willing to discuss the refugee issue only in a multilateral framework. (!!!)
Look, I have studied negotiations in many different contexts for enough decades to understand the need for the participants to announce hardline “opening positions” at the beginning. Netanyahu’s positions as reported here really don’t either surprise or concern me that much. But the idea that Pres. Obama and George Mitchell, as the supposedly fair-minded and constructive sponsors of this negotiation, might give any sign that these positions are compatible with their own positions concerns me a lot.
They need to come out and quite clearly define the principles on which they are proceeding in their diplomacy. At the top of the list, surely, should be these three simple dicta:
- That the U.S. has a strong national interest in the speedy attainment of a fair and sustainable peace between Israel and Palestine– as between Israel and all its other neighbors;
- That U.S. diplomacy in this region, as everywhere else in the world, will be firmly based in the well-known principles of international law and international legitimacy; and
- That the U.S. should be prepared to use all the instruments of its national power to secure the final-status peace that is based on those foundations.
Obama has been in office nearly 12 months now. And he still has nothing concrete to show for all the fine promises he made on this issue when he came into office. This is not only deeply disappointing to all those who voted for his “change” agenda. It also poses an increasing risk to the true security interests of the American people.