Israel's incoming prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, on Wednesday promised to resume peace talks with the Palestinians after he takes office, saying his government will be a "partner for peace."Because after all, it's not as if Israel has not been making compromises left and right to bolster Abbas's image. Left unsaid, of course, is just when Abbas starts making compromises.
The comments were the latest sign that Netanyahu is trying to temper his image as an opponent of the peace process. The Palestinians welcomed Netanyahu's words, but said his words must be matched by actions.
But the key thing is Netanyhau's turnaround--perhaps to have been expected--that he will negotiate with the Palestinians after all. This is not what he was saying all during his campaign:
Netanyahu led his Likud Party to a strong showing in last month's parliamentary election by campaigning on a message that was harshly critical of the outgoing government's peace efforts. He said the Palestinians were not ready for independence, and said he would limit his efforts to developing their economy while continuing Israel's military occupation of the West Bank.Once it was revealed that Labor would join the coalition, it was inevitable that Bibi would switch tracks...
Speaking at an economic conference in Jerusalem, Netanyahu said his development plan is not a substitute for political negotiations. "It's a complement to them," he said, calling a strong economy a "strong foundation for peace."But keep in mind that Netanyahu has not taken the leap to actually endorse the idea of a 2 state solution. He has not yet made any mention of the creation of a second Palestinian state and has said that he will allow the settlements that already exist to expand.
In order to court Labor, Netanyahu promised to maintain peace negotiations. However, their deal was ambiguous about what exactly Netanyahu is prepared to offer. [emphasis added]In the end, Netanyahu may very well end up disappointing both the Israelis that elected him as well as the members of Labor who have joined his coalition.
Whatever negotiations Netanyahu may be open to, the Palestinians will have their own version of what is negotiable and what is not:
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat cautiously welcomed Netanyahu's comments, but said the new government must commit to establishing a Palestinian state.Everything is negotiable--except for the settlements.
"Any Israeli government that accepts the two-state solution, negotiates with us on all core issues without exception, and agrees to stop settlement activity ... will be a partner," he said. "It's time for deeds from both sides as far as their commitments are concerned, not words."
Everything is negotiable--including allowing Palestinian Arabs back into Israel.
It is all very well for actions to be taken, but Erekat avoids the fact that thus far the deeds have come from the Israeli side. There has been no indication that the PA and Abbas have any inclination to concede anything on their part.
If that is because Abbas does not have the support among his own people to make concessions, then the peace negotiations are a joke--and it is time to make that admission openly.
If Netanyahu can present himself as truly interested in honest and pragmatic negotiations--instead of slavishly invested, as Olmert was--maybe we can get to somewhere.
Check out Israel Matzav for implications of Labor's involvement in the coalition.