Tuesday October 13, 2015
Israel Hayom
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Dan Margalit

The lesser evil

In Israel, the population is deeply divided on the question of whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu really means it when he says that he wants a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There are those who think he is playing a hand of diplomatic poker and will actually never sign an agreement, certainly not with the make-up of the current coalition. Others, however, who say that when it comes to the moment of truth, if he is presented with a real proposal, he will clear the hurdles and sign an agreement.

In actuality, it appears that whatever the case, the conduct of the Palestinian side will prevent this from ever being put to the test.

Back in January 2012, during a debate in Amman, the Israelis asked chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat whether he would be willing to accept the proposal from former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, three years after it was made. Olmert's proposal had been the most generous proposal Israel had ever offered the Palestinians. But Erekat reacted as though he had been bitten by a snake: No. Never. The Israelis then said that the Palestinians were trucking along on a highway with two exits, one leading to the proposal made by former Prime Minister Ehud Barak in 2000, and the other to the Olmert proposal of 2009. After that, there are no more exit ramps. So what are they complaining about?

Back then, the Palestinians also claimed that the Israeli negotiator at the time, attorney Yitzhak Molcho, had refused to accept the documents they had presented to him, which included their proposed plan. In fact, Molcho did accept the documents. They were labeled "Top Secret." In practice, these were propaganda documents, the kind that are plentiful on the Internet.

These days, the dialogue between Israel and the Palestinians has been renewed. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry wants to jumpstart the long-stalled peace talks. He has suggested starting off with an economic initiative that would give the Palestinians a much-needed push. Erekat rushed to announce that the Palestinians are not interested. They want nothing less than a Palestinian state with 1967 borders.

Not interested? Not exactly. Even as they claim that Israel owes them a great deal of money, the Palestinians know full well that in fact, the opposite is true. The accounting books clearly indicate that they have received numerous advances from Israel, totaling upwards of 500 million shekels ($137 million).

When Jerusalem was outraged over Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' initiative to gain recognition for Palestine at the United Nations, and the government loudly and publicly declared that in response, Israel would stop transferring money to the Palestinian Authority, the very same government in fact gave the Palestinians hundreds of millions of shekels. But it did so quietly, partly because it was angry and partly because it was afraid of how the extreme Right in Israel would react. The fact that the government hid this money transfer points to Israel's lousy negotiations standpoint: Our government cannot tell the world how fairly it behaved toward the Palestinians because it is afraid of how the extreme rightists within its ranks will react.

In this context, it is easy to understand why Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has tendered his resignation (although he has not actually resigned yet). He wanted to build Palestine from the bottom up, in a rejuvenating economic reality. But Fayyad is not corrupt, and the Fatah leadership does not want him. Branches of the "sons of light" -- the good guys -- need to be founded in Nablus and Jenin and Hebron as well as here.

Kerry appeared before the U.S. Senate this week and said that Abbas doesn't believe Netanyahu, and that Netanyahu doesn't trust Abbas. He downplayed the U.S.'s role in failing to keep Fayyad in office. According to the new secretary of state, the Palestinian Authority needs to be supported. Israel silently agrees with Kerry's assessment, even though various Arab leaders are quietly laughing at the Palestinian leadership that sits in Ramallah in the ears of their representatives to the Palestinian Authority.

The bitter truth is that Abbas doesn't want to, or can't, sign a peace agreement. He would be evicted from the West Bank if he did, and the Palestinians in Gaza would also turn their backs on him. Dr. Yossi Beilin, a regular visitor to the government headquarters in Ramallah, returned to the West Bank this week with his Plan B proposal, in the spirit of the proposal put forth by Economics and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett, but not with the same premise. In practice, Netanyahu also has a similar proposal. But Abbas, who can't even accept Olmert's proposal, certainly can't come to terms with the second phase of the Road Map, back from the days of former U.S. President George W. Bush.

With leadership like that, all we can do for now is, as Defense Minister Moshe (Bogie) Ya'alon astutely noted, manage the crises, not resolve them. It's the lesser of two evils. And there is plenty of evil.

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