Elias Harfoush
Dar Al-Hayat (Opinion)
September 28, 2010 - 12:00am

When Benjamin Netanyahu refused to extend the settlement freeze in the West Bank, he was not doing anything surprising. Indeed, he was not expected to respond to the calls of the sponsor of the direct negotiations, President Barack Obama, or to the positions of the European Union which urged Israel to provide the necessary climate for the success of the negotiations. Morever, Netanyahu was certainly not expected to respond to the wishes and interests of the head of the Palestinian authority, Mahmud Abbas, or to the good intentions conveyed by the Arab foreign ministers when they granted Abu Mazen the green light to move from the indirect to the direct method in his talks with the Israeli right-wing government.

The British pro-right wing The Economist magazine said in its last comments on what has happened so far between Abu Mazen and Netanyahu in Washington and then in Sharm al-Sheikh, that the members of the Palestinian delegation were “pleasantly surprised” by the transformation they noted in Netanyahu’s tone, but above all by the transformation that started affecting his feelings toward them. When he adopted the idea of “two states living side by side” following his arrival to power over a year ago, this was merely considered a step in form. Now however, he is describing Abu Mazen as being a “partner in peace” and seems honest in seeking to achieve that long-elusive historic breakthrough at the level of the Middle East crisis. The Economist added that an agreement reached with an Israeli leader from the extremist right-wing, is more capable of standing on its two feet than an agreement reached with a person affiliated with the pacifists camp.

And because the outcome of the negotiations in which the Palestinians are engaged today resides in their results and not the transformations affecting Netanyahu’s mind, his refusal to prevent the resumption of settlement activities in the West Bank is no less than the announcement of the burial of the ongoing negotiations. So, how can we expect to see the head of the Palestinian authority or the Arab foreign ministers who will be consulted at the beginning of next week, accepting the continuation of the negotiations at a time when the Israeli bulldozers are still imposing the results of the negotiations over the West Bank fields and houses? Moreover, what does it mean in the political language for Netanyahu to change his skin, while he refused to issue a decision to extend the settlement freeze even if for three months, as he was urged to do by Abu Mazen yesterday?

Netanyahu has a ready-made pretext for his refusal to cooperate with the international demands, namely the fact that this cooperation will cause the downfall of his governmental coalition that is based on religious fanatics, representatives of the settlers and the carriers of the Palestinian “Transfer” slogan. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who is one of the latter, clarified his position in regard to the “solution” he sees fit for the cause of the Palestinians during the last speech he delivered and in which he called for their ousting from their land and their replacement with the settlers, believing that the real exchange should affect the population and not the territory. In this context, we would not be exaggerating if we were to say that such a slogan is a practical translation of “The Jewish State” slogan that Netanyahu wants to impose on the outcome of the negotiations with the Palestinians.

Therefore, Israel’s prime minister placed the future of his governmental coalition ahead of the future of peace and the fate of the negotiations, and even ahead of the fate of his relations with Barack Obama’s administration. He probably did so because he knows he is the only man on the table holding all the cards of the game and the only one who knows what to do with them. Indeed, after the Americans relinquished their role by announcing they were not going to impose a solution on any of the sides, after the Palestinians relinquished all their pressure cards through their divisions and their bitter experiences with the previous uprisings, and after the world agreed to act as a bystander in the face of the Middle East conflict, it has become normal for Netanyahu to toy with these negotiations in what best suits his interests and slogans, realizing that retreat before his stringency is the only option left for everybody else.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017