Israel Should Not Rejoice About Cornering Abbas

Netanyahu has won — the Palestinian question is off the world's diplomatic agenda. But when your neighbor is deprived of hope, so will you be, sooner or later. As Ben Caspit writes, we cannot ignore what is happening there. The Palestinians are tenants in our two-family house, and when their living room shakes, so does ours.  

al-monitor Israel's Prime Minister Netanyahu stands with Palestinian Mahmoud Abbas before their meeting in Jerusalem 15/09/2010. Photo by REUTERS/Lior Mizrahi.

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Apr 4, 2012

A letter rests on the table of the chairman of the Palestinian Authority (yes, such an entity still exists), Abu Mazen. The addressee is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The letter is biting, explosive, a true hot potato that can burn up the entire room — but it has not yet been sent to its destination. The Palestinians have already showed the letter to the Americans, the Europeans and other entities that are now putting heavy pressure on Abu Mazen to stop or at least delay the message. Abu Mazen is playing the game of “stop me if you can,” but members of his close circle say that in the end he will have no choice. He will dispatch a personal messenger to Jerusalem or to Attorney Yitzhak Molcho with the letter. Afterward: the Flood.

What is written in that letter written by the Chairman of the Palestinian Authority? It contains the demand to renew negotiations immediately under three conditions. Israel must renew the construction freeze (possibly without a public declaration to that effect) and recognitize the pre-1967 lines, including transfer of territories, as a basis for negotiation. The third condition is new, demanding that Israel free the 129 Palestinian prisoners that have been incarcerated in Israeli jails from the pre-Oslo period (before 1995). The letter then contains a deadline, a type of ultimatum; if Israel won’t acquiescence to the terms, the Palestinians will see themselves as released from all shackles and agreements and will turn to another path: a new appeal to the United Nations for statehood and the renewal of the legal struggle. Perhaps they will even return the mandate and throw the keys on the table  in other words, dismantle the Palestinian Authority and let it collapse into Israel’s hands.

First of all, it is clear that this is the result of ongoing Palestinian frustration. Netanyahu won a resounding victory over Abu Mazen and succeeded in giving him a donkey’s funeral in the desert. The Palestinian issue has dropped from the public agenda, and no one exhibits interest in it anymore. World concern now revolves around only three subjects: Iran, Syria and the war against world terror. This truly drives the Palestinians crazy.

The Palestinian logic behind the letter is simple: The establishment of the Palestinian Authority was meant to be a an intermediary stage on the path to a permanent agreement and establishment of a Palestinian state. Since Israel, according to the Palestinians, has emptied the agreements of their content and injected a shot of death into the Palestinian state before it could even be born, the Palestinians have no intentions of continuing to cooperate with the “white-washing of the occupation” by artificial means. From their point of view, the State of Israel cannot continue to have their cake and eat it too. Abu Mazen intends to toss the keys on Netanyahu’s table and make himself scarce. At least, that is what he is threatening to do.

True, says the experienced reader, they have already threatened a thousand times and scared us two thousand more. That may be true, this may be another bluff. On the other hand, we cannot ignore what is happening there, on the other side of the fence, for the simple reason that “there” is “here.” The Palestinians are not hatching nefarious plots in Iran or Afghanistan. They live near us, here, five minutes from everywhere. They are the tenants in our two-family house, and it is far better that they be calm and relaxed than stormy and embittered, because when their living-room shakes, so does ours. The Americans and Europeans understand this and are now applying pressure, including a recent telephone call from Obama to Abu Mazen. But the veteran Palestinian leader tells anyone willing to listen that the die is already cast. He will send that letter to its destination, no matter what price he will have to pay.

And our side? Snorting in derision. Abu Mazen’s letter, if indeed it will be sent, will fan the flames of the extremists who oppose any type of negotiation or arrangement. This is especially true regarding those who always opposed the two-state solution and conspire toward only one state. These forces have been getting stronger in the last year, and growing in size. For them, such a letter will be just an excuse.

But after all is said and done, it is clear that the sense of euphoric victory that’s been spreading among the Israeli right is premature and dangerous. True, we have succeeded in sending the peace process into outer space, we have perpetuated the status quo and the merry construction in the settlements continues, for the glory of the State of Israel. Okay, it’s true that the Palestinians have legitimately earned the majority of their tribulations, and we are still waiting with bated breath for Abu Mazen’s answer to the extremely generous offer extended to him by Ehud Olmert four years ago.

Still, after we put all this on the table, there is something we must not forget under any circumstances: Today’s victory can be a Pyrrhic one. The greatest catastrophes happened to us when we were at the heights of our euphoria, when it seemed that our circumstances have never been better. The explosion always takes place at our worst possible moment. Our history and the Palestinian’s history is full of moments like these; afterwards, all that’s left is to be sorry.

Ben Caspit is a senior columnist and political analyst for Israeli papers. He has a daily radio show and regular tv shows on politics and Israel.

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