Netanyahu, Abbas take off diplomatic masks

While Likud ministers freely discuss annexation of parts of the West Bank, the Palestinians are preparing to request UN recognition of Palestine as a state under foreign occupation.

al-monitor Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a Cabinet meeting at the prime minister's office in Jerusalem, Jan. 3, 2018. Photo by REUTERS/Tsafrir Abayov.

Jan 4, 2018

This week several important developments took place in Israel and the West Bank, with the crutches holding up the limping peace process falling from the hands of the two people supposedly leaning on them. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas lost control of their management of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Netanyahu and his government spokespeople could no longer recycle the claim that the obstacle to peace is Abbas’ refusal to recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people. On the other hand, at the beginning of the 25th year of the Oslo Accord, Abbas can no longer claim to the Palestinian public that his investment in the diplomatic option is yielding dividends. An Israeli source who requested anonymity told Al-Monitor this week that if the right-wing government remains in power, Abbas will very soon ask the United Nations to recognize Palestine as a state under foreign occupation.

On Dec. 31, the Likud Central Committee, the most powerful body of the ruling party, passed unanimously a resolution urging the faction’s leaders to annex parts of the West Bank. By adopting such a resolution, the committee actually demanded to erase the dozens of UN resolutions against the occupation, to rip apart former US President George W. Bush's “road map for Middle East peace" and to tuck away Netanyahu’s 2009 Bar-Ilan speech that recognized the two-state solution. A large majority of Likud ministers and members of the Knesset raised their hands to support the decision that commits elected representatives of the party to work to apply Israeli law in the West Bank and freely allow construction in the “liberated centers of settlement in Judea and Samaria.” Thus, they ripped off the masks from the faces of Netanyahu and Abbas. 

The decision of the Likud Central Committee plays into the hands of the Palestinian refusal camp regarding the lack of hope in the diplomatic option. The speeches of the Likud ministers at the gathering, like the declaration of Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan that “the Likud will apply sovereignty to Judea and Samaria,” strengthen the argument that Netanyahu’s and Abbas’ words about the two-state solution are nonsense. How should the Palestinians understand the declaration of Minister of Tourism Yariv Levin that “all of the Land of Israel is ours and we will apply our sovereignty over all parts of the land”? What would have happened in an opposite case, if the Palestinian science minister were to announce publicly that the two-state option is dead, and that this land belongs to the Palestinians always and forever? How many TV interviews would Science Minister Ofir Akunis offer in order to attack the Palestinian Authority (PA) over such a statement?

The Foreign Ministry’s signature on the death certificate of the two-state solution was penned by Deputy Minister Tzipi Hotovely. “After years of struggle against the division of the land and the idea of the state of Palestine,” said Netanyahu’s deputy, “the time has come to say positively that Judea and Samaria are an indivisible part of Israeli sovereignty.” The prime minister preferred to be absent from the center’s meeting, but his deafening silence at the words of his ministers and deputy pierced the walls of the Muqata, the Palestinian headquarters in Ramallah. His tacit agreement let out the remaining air from the wheels of the diplomatic process, following US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israeli's capital. The dying “two-state solution” officially and publicly turned into a shriveled fig leaf. It can no longer hide the settlement enterprise flourishing under the outdated slogan.

If this were not enough, the “United Jerusalem” amendment that passed the Knesset on Jan. 2 stuck another stick in the wheels of the two managers of the conflict. The law that determines that transferring territory from the city in the framework of a diplomatic agreement requires the vote of 80 Knesset members (a special majority) does include a paragraph that allows its annulment with a majority of 61 Knesset members. But in times of utter lack of trust between the two sides, anything that touches Jerusalem is considered unforgivable political harassment — even if it has no practical ramifications. Any slight provocation destabilizes the good old status quo of Netanyahu and Abbas. 

Two women, a Palestinian teen and an Israeli politician, played the role of the child who shouts that the emperor has no clothes. The slaps that Ahed Tamimi, the 16-year-old Palestinian, gave an officer and soldier in the village of Nabi Saleh exposed the helplessness and inactivity of the PA headed by Abbas. Tamimi inflicted on Israelis what the Palestinian leaders dare not do; she slapped their faces. Lacking any way to show achievements by means of the diplomatic tools he has used until now, Abbas had to break the rules of the game. The Palestinian leader welcomed 2018 with a promise to chart a new policy toward the Israeli occupation. He laid the blame with Trump, who he claims gives his patronage to Israel’s colonialist policy and invalidates himself as an American mediator. In response, the Trump administration has threatened to hurt the Palestinians in their pockets by cutting US aid

Two weeks ago, Minister of Culture Miri Regev circulated a letter in which she wondered how Israel could sign an agreement to divide Israel and “Judea and Samaria” with one hand, “while with our other [hand] demanding that the world give de facto recognition to our right to a united Jerusalem and even to move embassies to Israel's capital.” The protest from Regev, Netanyahu’s main advocate, relates to the “ENI CBC Med” agreement for cross-border cooperation in the Mediterranean basin. The agreement, which promises a grant of tens of millions of euros for projects that include cooperation with 14 Mediterranean basin nations that are not members of the European Union, including the PA, excludes Israeli projects that originate beyond the green line (West Bank settlements). 

Regev called on her colleagues in the government “to clarify our justified position and not to compromise in order to get a little budget from the European Union.” But the ministers preferred the budget in a decisive majority — the same ministers that a few hours later ardently called for annexing “Judea and Samaria” and establishing more settlements. 

Former US President Bill Clinton already said, “It’s the economy, stupid.” Now, when only fragments are left of diplomatic tools, perhaps what would save the two people from the crisis are economic tools. Too bad that the current resident of the White House is the world champion in breaking the tools.

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