Who is sabotaging peace talks?
I don't know whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was surprised when Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad failed to show up for their scheduled meeting on Tuesday, but perpetual Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat certainly was. Surprised and embarrassed. Those in the know noticed even before the meeting that Fayyad was making every effort to avoid it, apparently because he didn't want to partake in the facade, which was doomed to fail.
The Palestinians (without Fayyad) came to the meeting with the usual list of preconditions: a commitment in advance that the Green Line would be recognized as the official border of a future Palestinian state and an absolute halt to all settlement construction beyond that line, including in Jerusalem. In other words, they seek to create facts on the ground, without discussing basic issues like security, or the rejection of the Palestinian “right of return” or the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.
"Wait a second," someone will surely remark. "The Israelis have preconditions too." But that isn't true. As opposed to the other side, Israel is saying, "Let's agree on an agenda, and when we sit down to negotiate, each side will raise its demands and then we will either reach an agreement or we won't." It is safe to assume that the Palestinians know very well that it will never happen their way. Why, then, do they keep trying?
One of the possible explanations is that they are trying to reclaim the attention of Washington, where the Palestinian issue has temporarily (until November?) been supplanted in the headlines.
Meanwhile, the Palestinians are laying the foundations for another U.N. membership bid – this time not in the Security Council but in the General Assembly, where they enjoy a clear majority. The Palestinians seek U.N. membership for a non-state, which would grant them certain international advantages on the way to full membership as a state.
At the same time they are issuing warnings: If Israel doesn't hurry up and implement the two-state solution, we will push for a bi-national state (to which all Palestinian refugees will be permitted to return), which will over time become home to an Arab majority. In other words – the end of the Zionist state.
Even those who promote the so-called one-state solution in political forums or in academic settings (like the recent Harvard "One-State Solution" conference) understand that it is not really a peace agreement, but rather an elimination of the Jewish state. Every intelligent being knows that, in practical terms, the Palestinian threat is an empty one. Israel has no intention of legally or effectively absorbing most of the Arab inhabitants of the territories or of abandoning its Zionist and democratic principles. Yet this "threat" continues to be heard.
One issue that cannot be dismissed is the position of the U.S. administration. Right now the administration is not pushing for progress in talks (the only thing worrying Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the moment is that his threats to step down or dissolve the Palestinian Authority are no longer making an impression on anyone, including U.S. President Barack Obama).
Jackson Diehl, the deputy editorial page editor of the Washington Post, harshly criticized Obama's foreign policy in his editorial this week, arguing that on almost every issue, Obama's aim is to "stop history until November."
So, to conclude, the Palestinian moves are transparent, to everyone including Jerusalem decision-makers. But Israel keeps playing the game (it will submit its own list of demands to the Palestinians in two weeks' time), just to make it clear for everyone who worked to advance peace, and who worked to sabotage it.