Akiva Eldar
Haaretz (Opinion)
November 28, 2011 - 1:00am

PARIS - Had Benjamin Netanyahu served in the French army 200 years ago, he would have had a splendid career. Napoleon, who preferred lucky generals to smart, good and loyal officers, would have easily recognized that Bibi had fortune on his side.

Relatively speaking, the "peace process" during Netanyahu's second term as prime minister is arousing less concern around the world than the French people's worries about the late arrival of snow to Paris. America's economic problems, which threaten Barack Obama's political future, have turned the U.S. president into Netanyahu's docile plaything. The euro crisis that threatens to break up Europe has turned the European Union into a paper tiger that steadily loses all vestiges of authority.

Obama's election as president stoked hopes in Brussels. Officials thought the time had come for a united American-European policy in the Middle East, especially on the Israeli-Arab dispute. The Palestinian attempt to embroil international organizations in the conflict with Israel highlighted the conflict between the United States and the other members of the Quartet. This Palestinian effort exposed policy gaps between key members of the European Union regarding solutions to the dispute.

If the upcoming elections in the United States assure Netanyahu a quiet year in the American arena, the convulsions rocking the EU augur quiet on the European track. The Europeans have enough on their hands dealing with disagreements over the economy; they have little time for the Palestinian efforts at the United Nations and UNESCO, which reveal disagreements on Middle East policy.

For Israel, France's upcoming elections promise a quiet winter in Paris, the European capital most active in the Palestinian-Israeli dispute. President Nicolas Sarkozy made haste to meet with French-Jewish leaders and explain that the appellation "liar" he affixed to Netanyahu in a conversation with Obama was "taken out of context." French Foreign Ministry officials who deal with the Middle East grasped that this wasn't the time to annoy the "friends of Israel." These officials are busy with the massacres in Syria and the unrest in Egypt. One official told me that if there is no change in Egypt, wheat and rice reserves will be depleted in a few days, along with foreign currency reserves.

More than two months have passed since the Quartet met in New York to work out its framework for renewing direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians. Since then, not only has the Quartet failed to bring the two sides closer, the Palestinian Authority's inclusion in UNESCO and the talks with Hamas have given the Israeli government a pretext to freeze Palestinian tax revenue and make declarations about establishing 2,000 housing units in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. And how did France, the representative of the "left" in the EU, respond to this? "You haven't noticed that we've changed our attitude on the settlements?" a French official asked incredulously. "Instead of expressing regret, we denounce." A real revolution!

Meanwhile, they sent the PA a special $20 million allocation. This is a wonderful arrangement: Netanyahu freezes the Palestinians' money and the Europeans give them an emergency grant. During her last visit to Jerusalem, EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton told Netanyahu that progress on a solution to the Israel-Palestinian dispute would strengthen Egypt's pragmatic elements. Ashton promised that a breakthrough with the Palestinians would help efforts to isolate Iran and drum up international support for tougher sanctions. The prime minister replied that he prefers to wait until the day after Egypt's elections.

With all due respect to the importance of Iran's nuclear program, Netanyahu has a plan to attain peace before the next elections. Presenting maps of an Israeli withdrawal, settlement freezes and the dismantling of outposts are not included in this plan. Netanyahu has defeated PA President Mahmoud Abbas, the presidents of the United States and France, and all members of the EU. Netanyahu has defeated the Labor Party and the Israeli left (while Kadima defeats itself ). Netanyahu wins and Israel loses - Israel loses hopes of peace and perhaps its last chance to preserve its democratic and Jewish character. As Napoleon put it, the "most dangerous moment comes with victory."


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