Netanyahu Left Palestinians With No Choice But the U.N.

Palestinians Only Wanted A Reliable Partner in Talks

By Larry Derfner

Published September 20, 2011, issue of September 30, 2011.
  • Print
  • Share Share

With all the tension between Israel and its neighbors, the expected vote in the United Nations on Palestinian statehood will be a dangerous confrontation. There’s no telling how the Palestinians and the rest of the Muslim world will react afterward, or how Israel will react, either. It would be better for all concerned if this matter had never gone to the U.N., if instead it had been negotiated between the two sides.

That’s what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been saying, and that’s what he’s expected to tell the U.N. He blames the Palestinian Authority and its president, Mahmoud Abbas, for refusing to talk peace with him.

He’s got it wrong, though. Blame for the absence of negotiations, for the long paralysis in the peace process, doesn’t lie with Abbas. It doesn’t lie with both sides, either. It lies entirely with Netanyahu and his government, and the popular Israeli majority that supports them.

Friends of Israel should ask themselves: Why won’t Abbas negotiate with this prime minister when he negotiated intensively with the previous one, Ehud Olmert? (Abbas, of course, also was involved in the peace talks with Prime Minister Ehud Barak at Camp David in 2000.)

What’s changed? Everything. Netanyahu’s whole approach to the peace process is that the Palestinians have to forget the ballpark offers that Barak and Olmert made them, forget nine years of intermittent progress in peace talks, and start all over again at square one in negotiations opposite him and his right-wing government.

This has been his message to the Palestinians since he took office two and a half years ago: Whatever Barak and Olmert offered counts for nothing now. Barak offered the Palestinians 95% of the West Bank and a capital in Arab East Jerusalem, and Olmert offered them more of the West Bank and more of Arab East Jerusalem — but that’s all vanished now.

And here, said Netanyahu, is the new starting point: Nothing. Not 95%, not 0.95%, nothing. And about Arab East Jerusalem, here’s the new starting and ending point: All of it belongs to Israel.

This is the offer to which Netanyahu insisted that Abbas respond — after the offer from Olmert, long after the offer from Barak.

Abbas said no. And can any reasonable, fair-minded person blame him? Would anybody negotiating the sale of a house, let alone the creation of a state, agree to forget the substantive offers the other side had made him in the past and to start negotiating from zero?

No, no one would. And make no mistake — nothing is what Netanyahu’s offering. He keeps saying that he’s ready to accept a Palestinian state, but where? Unlike Barak and Olmert, this Israeli prime minister has never committed himself to anything specific. He has never agreed to withdraw from any settlement, to give up any square inch of land. The only number he has mentioned is zero, which is the amount of Arab East Jerusalem he’s ready to give the Palestinians.

And nothing’s changed since he took office: That was his offer then and now. President Obama and European leaders have implored him to negotiate on the basis of the 1967 borders with land swaps — the essence of the post-Camp David “Clinton parameters,” and the unofficial basis of Olmert’s 2007–8 negotiations with Abbas.

Nothing doing, Netanyahu says.

Until this past August, by which time the die had been cast, Abbas made repeated offers to forgo the U.N. bid if Netanyahu agreed to base negotiations on the 1967 borders with land swaps and to freeze settlement construction for a few months.

Forget it, Netanyahu said: We negotiate from square one, or we don’t negotiate.

So when he speaks to the U.N. this week, Abbas will make good on his threat to take the case against the Israeli occupation and for Palestinian independence to the world body, where the Palestinians are sure to win a moral victory while Israel is left to defend the indefensible.

Again, can anyone blame this Palestinian leader? This is not terrorism he’s engaged in, it’s diplomacy. After taking over the P.A. shortly after Yasser Arafat’s death, in 2004,, Abbas has been speaking out constantly against violence, ordering his security forces to keep the peace, which they’ve been doing exceedingly well in close cooperation with the Israeli army and Shin Bet.

But these are dangerous times. And Palestinian impatience could ramp up after this week. If there are protests, if there are angry marches, and if Israeli troops or settlers kill even one Palestinian things could get bad. Beyond the West Bank, Gaza and Arab East Jerusalem, such scenes would not play well in Egypt, Jordan, Turkey or other Muslim countries.

It never should have come to this. Relations with a leader like Abbas should not have deteriorated to this point. The peace process shouldn’t have had to go to the U.N. Israel has a Palestinian partner for peace talks, and this time it is Israel, God help us, that has missed the opportunity.

Larry Derfner is a writer living in Israel. He also blogs at +972 Magazine.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.