Here’s the lead paragraph in the latest AP story on the Israeli elections, by Mark Lavie, which appeared in our local newspaper today:
JERUSALEM The Kadima Party of moderate Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni kept its slight lead over Benjamin Netanyahu’s hawkish Likud in final election results announced Thursday, but the hard-line bloc in Israel’s new parliament will have the power to stymie Mideast peace efforts.
Writer Lavie is by no means anti-Israel like some AP staffers, but this paragraph illustrates why people in this part of the world have little understanding of what’s going on in the Mideast.
One gets the idea from it that there are ‘peace efforts’ that are on the verge of success, as long as some nasty hawkish hard-liners don’t come along and screw it up.
Actually, there has been no progress in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) since the Annapolis conference despite a very strong desire on the part of current Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his Foreign Minister, Kadima leader Tzipi Livni, to reach an agreement.
The problem has not been right-wing sabotage, but simply that the PA’s demands have exceeded anything that even Olmert and Livni can agree to — and they are far ahead of the average Israeli in what they will accept.
Anyway, even if Netanyahu forms a narrow ‘right-wing’ coalition without Kadima, the Likud and the major parties that would join it all favor a two-state solution. It’s unlikely that the smaller parties would be able to exercise a veto power over negotiations with the PA. And Netanyahu himself has said that he would continue negotiations if elected.
But the hawkish makeup of the new parliament — and Netanyahu’s own opposition to peace treaty talks with the Palestinians — could stall efforts to negotiate an accord. That could put the new government into conflict with the U.S., where President Barack Obama has pledged to put Mideast peacemaking high on his agenda.
The only sense that I can make of this is that Lavie is conflating the negotiations with the PA, which are intended to lead to a peace treaty and which Netanyahu would continue, with the indirect talks with Hamas over a cease-fire. Netanyahu did express his opinion that the war should not have been stopped short of overthrowing Hamas. But then he adds this:
Last month Obama sent a special Mideast envoy, George Mitchell, on his first tour of the region. Mitchell is on record as favoring talks on a peace treaty and opposing expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Netanyahu disagrees on both issues.
Thursday evening, Palestinian [PA] President Mahmoud Abbas urged Israel’s incoming leaders to press ahead with peace efforts. He told a Christian gathering in Ramallah that Israel must stop settlement expansion and construction of the security barrier dividing Israel from the West Bank.
Israel should “accept the two-state solution — Palestine and Israel living side by side in security and peace,” Abbas said.
So he is after all talking about negotiations with the PA and is simply wrong about Netanyahu’s position. No wonder Americans don’t understand!
Lavie quotes Abbas’ usual red herring that what is preventing agreement is “settlement expansion” and the security barrier, instead of the real reason, which is that the PA’s own weakness in confronting hardline elements prevents it from taking reasonable positions on borders, Jerusalem and refugees. Abbas’ Fatah party is contending for dominance with Hamas and other extreme factions, and its flexibility is highly limited. No Israeli government led by a Zionist party, even Labor or Meretz, can possibly agree to anything that Abbas will be allowed to accept — or vice versa.
So in a sense Lavie is getting things exactly backwards. The problem isn’t hard-line Israelis, it’s hard-line Palestinians, particularly Hamas. But that would be disturbing to the conventional wisdom, which says that everything is Israel’s fault.
Oh yes. Nowhere in the article does the word ‘Hamas’ appear. Not once.