Akiva Eldar
Haaretz (Opinion)
June 22, 2009 - 12:00am

The "anger" of Mahmoud Abbas directed at Benjamin Netanyahu is tantamount to a child who threatens his parents that unless they buy him an ice cream, he won't go with them to the circus.

Who is being punished by his refusal to enter negotiations? The prime minister, who is biting his nails at the possibility of a Palestinian state being established? Who does he think he is scaring? Barack Obama, whose constituency doesn't know the difference between Kiryat Shmona and Kiryat Arba? Does Abbas really believe that Obama will do all the work for him, while he, as president of a future Palestine, goes on trips around the world?

A single Obama speech, even before the U.S. president even hinted at the possibility of sanctions, managed to wiggle out of Netanyahu the words "two-state solution." After 16 years during which the United States ignored the explosion of construction in the settlements, a right-wing government is bargaining over "natural growth."

Has anyone heard recently about the E1 project near Ma'aleh Adumim, on the road to Jerusalem? Netanyahu's conditions on the demilitarization of the territories, the demand that Israel be recognized as the state of the Jewish people, and continued sovereignty over East Jerusalem are having no effect on Obama. The man who said his experience as a community organizer shaped him has adopted the principles of community work on a global scale: identifying positive elements, cooperation and mediation. All this while granting everyone a place in the talks without being overly judgmental.

The most important achievement from his point of view is that henceforth dialogue with the right-wing government will not begin with a discussion on the idea of establishing a Palestinian state, but rather about its borders, security and relations with neighboring countries.

Obama's stance on all these issues is a lot closer to Palestinian expectations than Israeli demands: the Green Line is the key to the permanent border, the United States supports the deployment of a multinational force in the territories, it does not attribute any importance to how an independent state is defined by its neighbor and considers East Jerusalem occupied territory that must be divided in a fair manner between Israel and Palestine.

However, as long as Abbas boycotts the peace process, Obama is prevented from exposing his substantive differences with Netanyahu. The burden of proof, therefore, has made its way back to the Palestinians, and Benny Begin can stay in the government and remain loyal to his oath that he will not be part of a coalition that contributes to the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Without risking excessive exaggeration we can say that global and regional conditions have never been better for the success of the Palestinian struggle for independence. Obama's hand extended to the Muslim world and the Iranian regime's harsh response toward the crowds of demonstrators have created a favorable climate for pragmatic forces in the Arab world. They have also spread confusion in the opposing camp, which includes Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad.

Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak has recognized the importance of the moment. In a rare article published this week in the Wall Street Journal, he repeats the Arab League's offer for "full normalization" of relations with Israel, which will be an inseparable part of a peace agreement with Syria and Lebanon, as well as the Palestinians. Mubarak adds that the Arab world is willing to reward the Netanyahu government for serious steps toward peace.

The determination that Obama has exhibited regarding the two-state solution and halting settlement construction has signaled to Europe that it can also pressure Israel. The decision to freeze the upgrading of ties with Israel, until there is evidence of progress on the political front and the settlements, is just the beginning. Substantive change will happen in the European Union after the lenient Czechs pass on the EU presidency to the Swedes. The United Nations, the third party in the Quartet, has unfinished business with Israel. It was insulted by Israel's boycotting of the committee sent to investigate Operation Cast Lead and the ridicule that greeted UNRWA's grave reports on the humanitarian conditions in the Gaza Strip.

Even though Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman speaks their language, his new/old claim that even before the settlements there had been terrorism did not budge the Russians from their stance on the occupation.

This reality may prove to be a passing phenomenon. If Abbas does not hurry toward Obama, Netanyahu will outmaneuver him.


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