Officials in Jerusalem on Wednesday professed that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has "exhausted the Israeli side," and that the U.S. already knows that renewing peace talks depends exclusively on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chose to speak with Kerry on the phone yesterday, not because of the possible resumption of talks, but because of the European Union's plan to publish its "boycott document" on the settlements Friday.
The prime minister knew of the document in advance, but the Foreign Ministry did not inform him of the publication date. This Israeli diplomatic failure spans an entire continent. Perhaps there really isn't a need to meet the diplomats' demands to improve their working conditions abroad.
How did this happen? And who will guarantee that it doesn't happen in the future when it comes to matters more crucial than the publication date of a problematic document?
There is now a chance that the desired peace talks with the Palestinians will resume. Israel, well versed in Abbas' compulsive evasiveness, is waiting skeptically. Israel's silence can mean different things. On the one hand, it would be unwise to expose its contribution to the renewal of talks, because the talks may not start and there is no reason to reveal the price it was willing to pay. However, it is prudent to prepare Israeli public opinion that there are no free meals; there is no negotiating without giving something. Israel will also have to pay and divisions will emerge at home.
This EU document makes matters worse. It has been in the works for many years, was revealed three days ago and will become a law tomorrow.
Netanyahu, who was taken by surprise because he wasn't informed about the publication date, held a number of meetings in efforts to postpone it. Justice Minister Tzipi Livni also tried, possibly too late. The emergency efforts included Netanyahu's phone call with Kerry (from Jordan), who it was hoped would exert American pressure on Europe. But officials in the Prime Minister's Office also knew that chances of success were slim.
Make no mistake, this is an important document. Not because of its content. It also does not obligate the EU as a bloc. Every country can act as it sees fit. Its importance however stems from its function as a dangerous stepping stone for further boycotts, the final result of which no one can predict.
It is a shame Israel is not announcing it will freeze or cut back on settlement construction, for a limited and set period of time. After all, it is already doing this regardless, and even if the news makes some people on the Right angry it does not change the reality presently on the ground. Indeed, the hammers, tractors and concrete mixers have grown silent, certainly in Jerusalem.
The result is that the government is paying twice without gaining even one advantage. It is drawing the wrath of MK Uri Ariel (Habayit Hayehudi) and the ire of Meretz Chairwoman Zehava Gal-On. At least one of the two can be avoided.