The latest round of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians isn’t just stuck. Thanks to certain veiled threats, it has pretty well gone off the rails.
To illustrate, let’s suppose you were selling something on Craigslist; an old guitar, a laptop computer… maybe even a sub-lease on your house. At first, it seems you've got an interested buyer who's playing hardball in negotiating a price. But then you get the feeling it's more than hardball – and you're not even sure it's a negotiation any more.
"I don’t like your price or the terms and conditions,” the buyer says. “So here’s what’s going to happen. I’m not going to agree to any of your terms. And if you don’t like what I’m offering, I’m just going to go to the public and tell them that you have to accept the deal. And they’ll make you accept it. So you can either give me what I want now for the price I say – or I’ll just take it, and you’ll still only get the price I say.”
That’s not really a negotiation, is it? In fact, if the buyer really thinks he can make good on his threat, there’s no real incentive for him to offer anything at all. He could just take what he wanted.
This is sort of a metaphor for what’s happened with the official Palestinian negotiators’ position. In the wake of the latest failed talks, Mahmoud Abbas and his colleagues have not only suggested abrogating previous security treaties with Israel, but unilaterally declaring a Palestinian state .
Let’s be clear about what the Palestinian side is suggesting by ending these treaties, including the implemented sections of the Oslo Accords. These agreements demand terror organizations stop shooting, bombing and otherwise trying to cause indiscriminate mass murder amongst Israelis.
Now, try to imagine if Israel suggested this sort of upping the ante. “Peace talks over? Fine. You know, Ramallah in the West Bank is looking awfully safe and economically viable these days. Be a shame if some random Jewish yahoos – not formally affiliated with the Israeli state, you understand – started lobbing rockets on all the houses there. Yup. That’d be an awful shame… Watch your back, friends.”
The international outcry would be justifiably deafening. Yet hardly a peep is heard since the Palestinians first started firmly going down this rhetorical path weeks ago. The shame of it is, none of this was necessary. As senior and respected Arab journalist and Al-Arabiya TV Director-General Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed points out, Abbas’ stonewalling over Israeli settlements was pointless:
"Since insisting on this condition, Abbas has struck four achievements: He exempted Netanyahu of the talks he feared, he kept the Americans concerned with minor issues during Obama's two most important years, he encouraged radical Jews to support settlements and caused Obama to change his stance – instead of punishing Netanyahu, he rewarded him. All this in order to suspend construction in several settlements for a while."
So what can explain the intransigence coming from the Palestinian side? At least partly, it must come down to a perception that they really can get whatever they want without negotiating.
If they do attempt that route, the most likely result is not a new Palestinian state or even an improvement in the standard of living of Palestinians in the West Bank or Gaza. Notwithstanding Brazil and Argentina’s grandstanding on the Palestinians, the international community is not in a position to unilaterally impose borders, much less the other critical elements of what ought to be done through negotiations.
So the route will end in failure and frustration. And when Palestinians and Israelis do finally go back to the negotiating table, it’s hard to see how either side will benefited from the needless delay.