These days, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is directing a public relations campaign at diplomats from around the world – from Iran to Japan and others - asserting that Israel has closed every opening for continued negotiations. Abbas is an unrelenting and persistent propagandist, and very often his declarations fall on attentive and sympathetic ears.
It is not just the Palestinians who doubt Jerusalem's commitment to a two-state solution. Many foreign diplomats and friends from abroad have told me that they do not believe Israel is serious about peace. I cannot assure them that their suspicions are unfounded: Even I, an Israeli, am not convinced that the Israeli government's intentions are pure. I too stutter when a well-versed partner in conversation mentions that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made declarations about establishing two states for two peoples but has never had the government back them up.
Yet these arguments pale in comparison to the mounds of near definitive proof that the Palestinians are trying to undermine the talks. This is evidenced not only in their rejection of generous peace offers made by former prime ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert, which have been discussed to death, but also in their current rejectionist stance.
There are of course preconditions for negotiations: Israel demanded, justifiably, to be recognized before entering into the talks that culminated in the Oslo Accords in 1993. Abbas also has a precondition: that Netanyahu's Israel declare its commitment to a two-state solution. A legitimate demand as well.
But when Abbas' precondition was met, and on top of that Netanyahu declared a 10-month settlement construction freeze, the Palestinians refused to reenter negotiations and only made more demands. One of them was even half met – they asked to see a map outlining the permanent borders Israel would be willing to accept. Israeli negotiator Yitzhak Molcho described the borders verbally, not on paper, with enough detail to allow for a map to be drawn based on his remarks. The Palestinians then promptly rushed to announce that the Israelis had sabotaged the talks.
This raises some difficult questions on the way negotiations are conducted. If Israel has to provide a map outlining the borders that the Palestinians want before talks can begin, what is left to negotiate? The talks become superfluous, like a game that has been rigged.
This week, Palestinian leaders are set to convene to discuss the requests, coming from every corner of the enlightened world, to engage in peace talks through the end of March. But Abbas' people are using language that smacks of extortion: If Israel refuses to conduct talks in accordance with the Palestinians' guidelines then the Rais [Arabic for president] will move closer to Hamas. What if Netanyahu were to present the Palestinians with permanent borders along the current separation fence and threaten that if they refused to accept these borders he would enlist into his coalition (extreme right-wing National Union MKs) Yaakov (Katzeleh) Katz and maybe even MK Michael Ben Ari? What would the world say about Netanyahu then?
Molcho did not present his version of the borders as an immutable condition. It was a starting point for dialogue, if the Palestinians are in fact interested in such a thing. Want to use closer ties with Hamas as a threat? Then perhaps the time for serious negotiations has not arrived yet.