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Israel-US-Palestinian Conundrum

Kerry & Netanyahu

 It is not only about saving the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the nature of Israeli -U.S. relations may be at stake.  U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Israel's Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu are trying to forge a deal that will apparently see Israel freeing fourteen Israeli Arabs with 'Israeli blood on their hands'. In return, Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas will carry on the peace contacts after April 29, when the current round runs out. The highest hurdle is now inside Israel's coalition government. The Jewish Home Party, which is led by Naftali Bennett, has issued an ultimatum: its twelve members will bolt the coalition if the Netanyahu government agrees to free the Israeli Arab terrorists. Netanyahu would then lose his 68 majority in the 120 member parliament. But on the other hand, another coalition partner has taken the exact opposite position. Tzippi Livni's Movement party has also threatened to quit the cabinet, if peace contacts are not continued with the Palestinians. After consulting with Livni before a Channel 22 interview, Knesset Member Amir Peretz declared: "If there is no peace process, there will be no government!" Currently, there are six Movement members in the coalition. So how on the Palestinian question has Prime Minister Netanyahu managed to wind up with both a confrontation with the U.S. and a major crisis in his coalition government? It is not all his fault.

 Pollard for Israeli Arab terrorists

Jonathan Pollard

 First, the two allies, Jerusalem and Washington, are now embroiled in a shouting match after Kerry blamed Israel for undermining his peace mission. Case in point: Housing Minister Uri Ariel of the Jewish Home deliberately announced plans to build 700 housing units in the Jerusalem suburb of Gilo. Before the current round, Netanyahu agreed to free four batches of Palestinian terrorists as a good-will gesture toward Abbas. At that time, Kerry and Abbas pressed the Israeli leader to include some Israeli Arabs in the last prisoner release that was slated for the end of March. But Israeli government sources contend that Netanyahu had added a caveat: the release of Israeli Arab terrorists would be based on the Palestinians negotiating in good faith. Or, as Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman put it: "Israel is interested in negotiating peace, but we're not suckers! The Palestinians are not interested in a peace agreement with the Jewish state."

The fact is, there have been no direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians; Kerry and U.S. diplomat Martin Indyk have been acting as arbiters between the two sides.

 The fact is, there have been no direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians; Kerry and U.S. diplomat Martin Indyk have been acting as arbiters between the two sides. The Palestinians retaliated for what they perceived as an Israeli delay in releasing more of the terrorists by applying for membership in fifteen international bodies. This, as Kerry acknowledges, violated the Palestinian commitment to negotiate with Israel. In an effort to overcome Israeli resistance to the freeing of Israeli Arabs, who had murdered their fellow Israeli citizens, Kerry proposed the U.S. also release Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard. Meanwhile, Israel decided to suspend transferring hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue it collects for the Palestinian Authority in lieu of the hundreds of millions of dollars that the PA owes Israel for its supply of electricity, et cetera. This financial sanction also annoyed the U.S. State Department. If the art of diplomacy is to define your rival's goals and then block them by advancing your own interests, then Netanyahu has gotten the short end of the stick. Israel is bickering rather than coordinating with its vital American ally, while the Palestinians refuse to even recognize Israel as the Jewish state. 

 Bennett's bluster… 

Naftali Bennet

 Israel's government could have avoided this current brouhaha with the U.S.  Rather than selecting the option of releasing Palestinian terrorists, Israel could have chosen to implement another temporary settlement freeze in Judea & Samaria (West Bank). (Last year, Kerry had insisted that Netanyahu pick one or the other in order to enable Abbas to cooperate with his peace mission). But it was Bennett who utterly rejected a new settlement freeze, and thereby forced Netanyahu to implement the release of terrorists. As far as the Jewish Home and most Likud MKs are concerned, the Kerry mission is already a dead letter. And in retaliation to the Palestinians seeking international pressure to advance their cause, Israeli Right-wingers even propose annexing parts of the West Bank. Bennett, Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon, and the vast majority of Likudniks seem to have no idea of Israel's place in the current world order. They talk as if Israel were a super-power on a level with the U.S., Russia, China, or even Britain (when it defends its role in the Falkland Islands dispute).

Avigdor Lieberman
"Israel is interested in negotiating peace, but we're not suckers! The Palestinians are not interested in a peace agreement with the Jewish state."

 Netanyahu and the 'old-new' Foreign Minister Lieberman certainly appear to have a better understanding of Israel's dependence on America's support, but that is not to say that they are ready to cave in on Israel's vital interests. In this context, both these leaders recognize Israel's crucial need to surmount the current feud with Washington and support Tzippi Livni's peace contacts with the Palestinians. What should also be taken into consideration is that American foreign policy is often designed to simply contain local hot spots from boiling over. The Syrian chemical weapons agreement is a typical example where, unfortunately, President Bashar Assad has again used chemical weapons against his own people. 

 Diplomatic march of folly… 

Bennett cannot block the release of the terrorists if the Prime Minister decides to do so.

 Martin Indyk, Kerry's man on the ground in Jerusalem and Ramallah, has left the region for a brief stay in Washington to clarify the Pollard aspect of a solution and to discuss other aspects of the peace mission. The Middle East veteran can be expected to return with some new twists to what has become a diplomatic mess for Israel's Prime Minister. If indeed the White House gives the green light to releasing Pollard as part of the deal, then it could sweeten the bitter pill for Bennett, who has been a strong advocate on behalf of the spy. And despite his bluster, Bennett will think twice about quitting the cabinet where his party controls the crucial Housing portfolio. In Israel's coalition politics, parties think long and hard before leaving the comfortable confines of the cabinet for an uncertain future in the wilderness of the parliamentary opposition. Moreover, Labor party leader Yitzhak Herzog has already promised to provide a 'safety net' for any peace moves by Netanyahu. Therefore Bennett cannot block the release of the terrorists if the Prime Minister decides to do so. Lieberman has given his cohorts the freedom of vote on the issue, a step that is likely to give Netanyahu a majority in the cabinet.

...Israelis are convinced the Palestinians still support Yasser Arafat's memorable declaration: "We do not want peace, we want victory!"

 The bottom line is this: the vast majority of Israelis are convinced the Palestinians still support Yasser Arafat's memorable declaration: "We do not want peace, we want victory!" If so, there is no reasonable chance to reach a peace treaty with them anyway. Therefore, it is in Israel's interest to cooperate as far as possible with the current U.S. peace effort. The alternative is far less attractive - more international pressure on Israel. Certainly the Jewish state should not volunteer to take responsibility for the failure of the Kerry mission due to the irresponsible, and even reckless, behavior of Right wing zealots such as Naftali Bennett. Bibi Netanyahu's statecraft and nerves will be severely tested in the days ahead. Is it not high time for Israel to end its 'march of (diplomatic) folly' while the Iranian nuclear threat looms as menacing as ever? 

 

 PS: Haaretz reports: 'Senior officials in Washington are angry because Israel has not supported our position against Russia's intervention in Ukraine'. The Obama administration was also disappointed that Foreign Minister Lieberman had equated Jerusalem's relations with Moscow to those with Washington. In light of this new tension, Prime Minister Netanyahu has declined a personal invitation from Russia's President Vladimir Putin. Israeli consideration: Israel has been trying hard to dissuade Moscow from implementing a contract to supply Iran with advanced anti-aircraft missiles. This also applies to Syria. In addition, over one million Russian Jews have come to make their homes in Israel and they have deep family ties back in Russia, where there is a large Jewish community. All Israel needs now is a wave of Russian sentiment against Russian Jewry because of Israel's intervention in the Ukrainian crisis. In light of these grave considerations, does Washington now expect Israel to get embroiled in the current clash between the two world powers?

 

 

 David Essing

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