by Cliff Drake
Netanyahu has painted a picture to the Israeli public of PA reluctance and defiance, particularly by PA President Mahmoud Abbas. With Abbas' refusal to discuss or negotiate with the Netanyahu administration before a complete settlement freeze, Netanyahu has been able to maintain claims that the Palestinians do not want to advance the peace process, especially his “Economic Peace.” Let there be no mistake: Naturally, I agree that Netanyahu's “Economic Peace” plan is a tool to avoid agreements that should have been completed years ago. Furthermore, this plan is a fantasy: I have personally been through the Allenby Bridge and was held up for 5 hours - as an American none the less. It is crazy to believe, then, that somehow opening this bridge twenty-four hours a day will create a profound economic impact. Rather, there will still be mass delays that no reasonable business can work around. And as for the possibility of joint industrial projects in the region, in the model of the European Steel and Coal Community, the “security” conditions currently in place in the West Bank would prevent their success.
However, I still belief that Abbas and the PA cannot let Netanyahu get away with painting this picture of Palestinian inflexibility when it is the PA that has, traditionally at least, been truly striving for progress. To use Tony Blair, the Quartet's envoy to the region, as the only method of communications feels a little silly and demeaning to both sides' efforts. Moreover, it wastes time when time is of the essence in regions like the Gaza Strip. It is understandable that Abbas does not trust Netanyahu's "Economic Peace," but he is missing the point. The implementation of the “Economic Peace” plan is not important. What is important is the willingness of the parties to meet and discuss how to change the current realities.
This conflict has become about politics and perceptions, more so than most other historical conflicts have been. This has happened, most likely, because the conflict was born and developed in the world of globalism and twenty-four hour news outlets. Therefore, talking with the Netanyahu administration, even at a low level, would create a positive image of the PA in the international community, which right now is more unified than it has been in decades, to counter the negative one Netanyahu paints. Abbas still needs to cry out against Netanyahu's intransigence, including continued settlement construction on land considered illegal, even under Israeli law, after multiple commitments to stop. But he also needs to talk with the man.
It is hard for me to believe that Netanyahu will change his policies on final status issues; he has taken a firm, hard-line stance. But truth be told, as many editorials in Haaretz have picked up, he is somewhat soft. Netanyahu folded and (reluctantly) expressed his willingness to pursue the two-state solution after Obama's Cairo address spotlighted it and, frankly, embarrassed him. Call me an idealist, but I do not believe Abbas' stated goal of forming a Palestinian state within two years is ridiculous.
There is much progress that can be made and pushed through by the international community, yet it requires both parties to be attentive. Even if Abbas and the PA realize the negotiations are purely political and not towards a solution, they are still useful. Because, in the end, both sides can play the political game, so play ball!