Although the “direct talks” between Israel and the Palestinian Authority cannot possibly lead to a peace agreement — here’s a good explanation of why — many observers think they are at least harmless.
They aren’t. The trouble is that the non-existent possibility of success will be used — is already being used — as a club to beat Israel. For example:
With the imminent onset of long-sought direct talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, the US administration expects that neither side will take any measure to poison the atmosphere or derail the talks, a senior American official said on Tuesday.
The official, in a briefing in Jerusalem with Israeli journalists, was asked repeatedly, and in various permeations, how the administration would react to an end to the settlement housing-start moratorium on September 26. The official would not answer directly, but only repeated the mantra about Washington expecting that both sides not do anything to harm the atmosphere or derail the talks. The official then went to Ramallah for a similar briefing with Palestinian reporters.
On Monday, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the moratorium issue would be a topic of discussion when Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and PA President Mahmoud Abbas meet with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to launch the direct talks next Thursday in Washington.
“We are very mindful of the Palestinian position and once we’re now into direct negotiations, we expect that both parties will do everything within their power to create an environment for those negotiations to continue constructively,” Crowley said when asked about the Palestinian threat to quit the talks if the moratorium was not renewed.
In other words, the US will not permit the official building freeze in Judea/Samaria or the unofficial one in East Jerusalem to expire, because that would tend to ‘derail’ the talks (prediction: the phrase ‘derail the talks’ will soon become as popular in administration-speak as ‘bolster Abbas’ and ‘end the settlements’).
And here’s another prediction: the PA will not be required to do anything. You might think that calling Jews apes and pigs would tend to derail things, but you can bet that this kind of vicious incitement will continue. Watch carefully and see. One might also think that the least the PA could do would be to admit that whatever will be left of Israel after the next partition will belong to the Jews, but they won’t even say that.
Once the pointless exercise begins, expect that any form of self-defense by Israel — intercepting new flotillas, shooting back at Hizballah, whatever — will immediately be met with a threat by the PA to leave the talks and American pressure to submit, lest a display of backbone cause a massive derailment, even a train wreck.
There is another problem. This is not the more-or-less toothless Bush Administration, or Bill Clinton, who quite honestly thought he could bring peace to the Middle East.
This is a White House suffused by anti-Zionist ideology whose objective is to get Israel back to the 1949 armistice lines regardless of the consequences for Israel’s security. We can expect that there will be an attempt to create a Palestinian state by fiat, while Israel’s security concerns will be met with some form of international guarantees. As has always happened in the past — the most recent example is UNSC resolution 1701, which was supposed to prevent Hizballah from rearming — such guarantees will prove to be worthless. Goodbye peace, hello war.
I assume that PM Netanyahu got into this in return for promises regarding American action against the Iranian nuclear program, which Jerusalem views as a much bigger threat than anything else. It remains to be seen if the US will live up to this commitment. Precedents aren’t good, starting with the US promise in 1956 to guarantee free passage for Israel in the Strait of Tiran, up to the promises made by President Bush to PM Sharon in 2004.
Frankly, if Jewish and Israeli history teaches us anything at all, it is that we have to rely on ourselves — not our friends, and even less so those who manifestly are not our friends. And that includes the present US administration.
Update [25 Aug 1635 PDT]: I said to watch carefully for continued incitement by the PA. Well, we didn’t have to wait long!