Benjamin Netanyahu's Indecision Is Roadblock to Peace Push

If Premier Makes Up His Mind, John Kerry Could Still Succeed

getty images

By J.J. Goldberg

Published July 09, 2013, issue of July 12, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

I was on the phone the other day with a very senior adviser to a string of former Likud leaders and prime ministers, mostly listening while he talked about Secretary of State John Kerry and his marathon Israeli-Palestinian peace-processing. He wasn’t optimistic.

His main reason for pessimism: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s reluctance to risk collapsing his coalition by outlining where the border should be. The Palestinians, the adviser said, are ready to negotiate a peace agreement, but they insist on starting where their talks with Ehud Olmert broke off in 2008, which means basing the map on the pre-1967 border.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas is strong enough to strike a deal, the adviser said — stronger than he’s been in years. The Arab League is ready to back him once a deal is reached, and the neighboring regimes are too preoccupied with their own problems to get in the way. The trouble is that Bibi won’t say what he wants.

The adviser said Olmert’s last offer was roughly the same as Ehud Barak’s offer at Camp David in July 2000, President Clinton’s so-called parameters of December 2000 and President George W. Bush’s letter to Ariel Sharon in April 2004. Each plan showed borders based on the 1967 lines, with adjustments. Israel would keep the major settlement blocs of Gush Etzion, Maale Adumim and Ariel, swapping land in return. Broad understandings were reached on Jerusalem and refugees. The Palestinians don’t see why they should accept less than they’ve already been offered, the adviser said.

Bibi understands what needs to happen, the adviser said. He understands that Europe has lost patience with Israeli rule over the Palestinians in the West Bank, and America is slipping. This looming isolation is a mortal security and economic threat. But he’s afraid to risk his coalition. He wants to start negotiating and then lay out his ideas at the table.

Abbas doesn’t trust Bibi, though. He won’t risk entering a negotiation that might fail and lead to another Palestinian eruption. That’s where Kerry’s process is stuck.

Frankly, this wasn’t what I expected to hear from a famous Likud tough guy. Still, with all due respect, I’m finding myself disagreeing with him. I thought he was being too dismissive of Bibi. Events since the phone call have made me more optimistic.

Conventional wisdom says neither side is ready to make peace. The Palestinians are supposedly too divided, and Abbas is too weak to convince his minions to compromise. Bibi is widely assumed to be stalling, hoping somehow to keep the territories, leave the settlements in place and wish the problem away. Both assessments are plain wrong. Whatever their histories, both leaders are now eager to reach a two-state agreement.

The other half of conventional wisdom says that the two sides’ bottom lines are simply too far apart for an agreement. That’s probably wrong, too. Except for the fate of Ariel, which protrudes deep into the West Bank, and the number refugees to be symbolically “returned” — Olmert offered 5,000, Abbas wanted 150,000 — the major issues are more or less settled. Abbas has said so openly and repeatedly. Netanyahu hasn’t said it openly, but he’s hinted at it every way he can without breaking up his party.


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!
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'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?
  • 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.