The Jerusalem Post reports that President Obama’s envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, is set to leave Israel without having launched “proximity talks” between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority. Mitchell is said to have “arrived in Israel on Thursday amid high hopes of a breakthrough” with respect to proximity talks. But PA president Mahmoud Abbas has taken the position that “there will be no resumption of the talks until the settlement construction stops, not only in the West Bank but also in east Jerusalem.” And Benjamin Netanyahu has made it clear that an end to construction in the Jewish neighborhoods of east Jerusalem is a “non-starter.”
Under pressure from Obama, Israel reportedly was prepared to offer Abbas several inducements to participate in proximity talks. The inducements apparently included releasing Palestinian security prisoners, removing IDF road blocks in the West Bank, and, according to some accounts, withdrawing to where the IDF was deployed in the West Bank before the outbreak of the second intifada in late 2000. In addition, it has been reported that Netanyahu even offered Abbas a state with temporary borders on anywhere from 50 to 80 percent of the West Bank.
Why did Abbas find these incentives to talk insufficient? It’s unlikely that the explanation lies in construction in Jewish neighborhoods of east Jerusalem. Such construction is nothing new and would hardly be expected to cause the PA to reject talks that it otherwise was interested in holding.
The real explanation likely can be found in Abbas’ appeal to Obama to impose a peace deal. Reminding Obama of his claim that a Middle East peace deal is vital to U.S. security, Abbas stated:
Since you, Mr. President, and you, the members of the American administration, believe in this, it is your duty to call for the steps in order to reach the solution and impose the solution – impose it. But don’t tell me it’s a vital national strategic American interest… and then not do anything.
Abbas has a point, though mainly a rhetorical one. The more basic point is that, by emerging as a champion of the Palestinians who is hell bent on making certain they have a state, Obama has removed any incentive the PA might have to negotiate in good faith with Israel. Far better to sit back and wait for Obama to “impose — impose” a solution.
Since the PA won’t talk to Israel, Netanyahu should feel free not to grant any of the concessions described above that were offered as inducements for talks. To the extent the concessions were demanded by Obama, Netanyahu should tell the president that he was willing to make them, but there is no longer any point.
Then Israel should turn its attention away from the PA, which is not a threat, and focus single-mindedly on Iran, which has long been a threat and may well be on the verge of becoming an existential one.