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MIDDLE EAST: While waiting for the peace talks to begin ...


Since reopening with much fanfare last week, peace talks between Israel and Palestinians continue to generate the typical mood swings. Parades are promptly rained on, windows of opportunity pronounced open one minute are declared closing the next. The first local meeting was slated for the West Bank town of Jericho. Didn't happen

The festive relaunch was shoehorned into the last opening available among Labor Day, the Jewish high holidays and the Muslim Eid al-Fitr, leaving everyone only a handful of working days to prepare for the next event, next week's meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Sharm el Sheik, Egypt, under the watchful eye of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

But the next really important date is Sept. 26, the end of the settlement freeze. It's a pity, says Israel, that the Palestinians waited until the freeze was nearly over to talk. The Palestinians say talks will be over before they begin if construction resumes.

A frequent question these days is whether Netanyahu has crossed the Rubicon. Referring to the "West Bank" and not "Judea and Samaria" suggested to some a shift, to others just smarts. Using this term, certainly in the presence of the president of the U.S., is like writing a check: You can't take it back, writes commentator Ben Caspit. When Ariel Sharon used the O-word, "occupation," that also heralded a shift, but he didn't pursue a bilateral agreement.


Already a year ago, Ari Shavit wrote Netanyahu had crossed the Rubicon on ideological and practical levels and "reinvented himself as a centrist." Right-wing circles are concerned about the shift in rhetoric; he's sounding more like Sharon these days than Netanyahu before the elections, says Likud Party lawmaker Danny Danon.

When Julius Caesar crossed the original Rubicon, it wasn't in peace; he wittingly started a civil war that was neither short nor pretty -- but he won.


So, that partnership thing. Netanyahu turned to Abbas as his partner in peace. For the 10 years since the spirit of Camp David gave way to an armed intifada, many Israelis maintained that "there's no partner." The copyright to that phrase belongs to Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who uttered it when he was prime minister. Using the term "partner" now is Netanyahu's way of claiming ownership over this incarnation of the process, says Tamar Hermann, a political scientist at the Israel Democracy Institute. This is his own move; he's not continuing something bequeathed to him by the left, she says.

Gidi Grinstein, founder and president of the Reut Institute and secretary of Israel's negotiation team a decade ago, says Netanyahu was right to emphasize the partnership over adversity, the delicate balance between, which is the stuff the art of negotiations is made of. But besides the antics of semantics, this can have practical effect if partnership in negotiations means each side must be attuned to the other's nuances and needs. Translation: The partners will have to understand Netanyahu's limitations and will have to settle for a de facto freeze in places where construction could affect the outcome of negotiations, Grinstein says. 

So is this an aboutface, or about Facebook? 

The Geneva Initiative group is running a media campaign featuring Palestinian leaders requesting "partnership" of Israelis on mock Facebook platforms. "Accept" and "ignore" are the options. As in life, the latter isn't really an option. "Even if you ignore them, they won't go away" is the message you get by clicking "ignore."

But what about Netanyahu's "natural partners," as he had referred to the political parties of Yisrael Beiteinu and Shas when he formed his coalition? Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, one senior partner, isn't shy about sharing his positions. Agreement within a year? Not even this generation, he says. Best keep expectations realistic so that inevitable disappointment doesn't destroy achievements on the ground. Settlements aren't the obstacle to peace or even the root of the conflict that predates1967, he says often. For their part, the Palestinians finally have pinpointed the greatest obstacle to peace: Lieberman.

Lieberman disagrees with Netanyahu but is staying out of his way. For now, a coalition partner. If push comes to shove, there will be others -- or elections. Netanyahu remembers how giving the Palestinians control over part of Hebron in his first term cost him dearly. Political commentator Hanan Kristal says Netanyahu is willing to pay the political price, but at the end, say, in a year. If he reaches an agreement, he'll have the Labor Party and probably Kadima to back him. But if he avoids progress, he'll lose Barak, who has a gentlemanly agreement with opposition leader Tzipi Livni that she won't join in his place. 


It is often pointed out that public opinion in Israel has shifted to the right in recent years. Voting patterns may have shifted to the right but not necessarily public opinion, says Raviv Drucker, a commentator for Channel 10. Israelis may vote for right-wing parties because of changes in the political map, but the right wing itself has moved. A right wing that speaks of a two-state solution, an independent Palestinian state and the West Bank, is a long way from that of 20 years ago, Drucker says, making an interesting point. This isn't to say it is going to happen -- only that more Israelis, including on the right -- have a more realistic view of what "it" is going to look like.

-- Batsheva Sobelman in Jerusalem

Photos: At top, campaign banner from Peace Now website. Below, a settler campaign banner, referring to Netanyahu by his nickname, warns that "Bibi is repeating the Sharon precedent" that will lead to uprooting settlements.

Video: In the Geneva Initiative campaign, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat says he wants to be Israelis' partner. Credit: YouTube

Comments () | Archives (7)

blha: In your insightful (or is that inciteful) comment, you didn't mention the RPG found on the site. Not held by the 91 year old man or his grandson but by the 3rd person killed when IDF was PROTECTING THEIR SIDE OF BORDER.

But, really, there is no more of a reason for you to hate Israel and Jews than the fact that both exist.

terrorists come in all shapes and sizes and AGES one minuite a terrorist and the next by the wave of a wand a civilian i know i have had to duck their bullets and being young or old did not stop or matter to them,children are trained from birth to hate and of course hate also ages with the hater. thank you.

"Punishing civilians as usual".

How interesting that the "civilians" were armed and in the process of preparing to launch rockets into Israel's collective farming communities, hoping to hit kindergartens and old age homes.

Shouldn't Israel Defense Forces (IDF) do its duty and defend Israel's sovereignty and the life of its citizens, or Jews, have no right to defend themselves from those who set out to slaughter them...??

Indeed, where is the detailed report about this story so that "narratives" (fictional story tellings) are not shared here by posters who would do all they can to demonize the nation-state of the Jewish people, Israel?

So where are the front page reports on Israeli shelling in Gaza that killed a 91-year-old farmer and his grandson and neighbor's son?
"Israeli tank forces killed three Palestinians, including a teenage boy and his grandfather, at the border with Gaza yesterday, after a rocket was fired across the border.

The victims were 91-year-old security guard Ibrahim Abdullah Abu Said, his grandson Hossam Khaled Abu Saeed, 17, and a man named as Ismael Walid Abu Audeh, 20."

Punishing civilians as usual.

If "settlements" were the source of the conflict between the Jewish people and its nation-state of Israel with the Muslim-Arab world, local and regional, I, a proud Jew, would be the first to say: cease all construction now so that peace is achieved.

But the source of the conflict is not and has never been "settlements" but rather the categorical, consistent and persistent refusal of the Muslim-Arab world, local and regional, to accept Israel's very legitimacy, to RIGHT to be, to exist as the nation-state of the Jewish people.

Israel's RIGHT is of course grounded in historically, ethically and legally. But such reasons don't play any factor in the minds of the Muslim-Arab leadership, and sadly, very little if any factor in the mind of the present President of the United States of America who as of late refuses to refer to Israel's Jewish nature - used by the United Nations - or to the "two-states for two-peoples" solution. Instead, these days Mr. B.H.Obama refers to a "two-state solution" as though the nation-state of the Jewish people is non-existent as such. And he is the President of the U.S., dealing with and insulting the Jewish people and its nation-state, America's closest and most loyal ally in the region...

If the Palestinians continue to insist on a settlement freeze, Netanyahu should say "fine, so long as it's mutual." After all, the Palestinians are occupying ancient Jewish lands, where Kind David and Kink Solomon had their kingdoms.

The Palestinians squandered 9 months of Israel's good will and only now are coming to the negotiating table because Obama pressured them. If they really want to talk peace, they wouldn't throw up excuses like the settlements unless they are willing to halt their own expansion as well.

Each, both, and all sides are playing a dangerous game of poker. I imagine there will be all types of deceiving, raising, bluffing, reshuffling, and more as the stakes become higher and the temporal window starts closing.


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