After publishing a lengthy piece in The NY Times Sunday Review, rehashing the oft-told story of Israel’s dilemmas in not achieving a two-state peace with the Palestinians (“What Will Israel Become?“), Roger Cohen has released a potential bombshell in today’s paper, “Why Israeli-Palestinian Peace Failed.” Cohen’s column is based upon his interview with Tzipi Livni, Israel’s former chief negotiator, now allied with Labor.
It’s still hard to see negotiations succeeding given the right-wing nature of most of Netanyahu’s coalition, but if this piece is correct, it has to shake our confidence in Abbas as a partner for peace. This excerpt captures its essence:
. . . On March 17, in a meeting in Washington, President Obama presented Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian leader, with a long-awaited American framework for an agreement that set out the administration’s views on major issues, including borders, security, settlements, Palestinian refugees and Jerusalem.Livni considered it a fair framework, and Netanyahu had indicated willingness to proceed on the basis of it while saying he had reservations. But Abbas declined to give an answer in what his senior negotiator, Saeb Erekat, later described as a “difficult” meeting with Obama. Abbas remained evasive on the framework, which was never made public.This, in Livni’s view, amounted to an important opportunity missed by the Palestinians, not least because to get Netanyahu’s acceptance of a negotiation on the basis of the 1967 borders with agreed-upon swaps — an idea Obama embraced in 2011 — would have indicated a major shift.Still, prodded by Secretary of State John Kerry, talks went on. On April 1, things had advanced far enough for the Israeli government to prepare a draft statement saying that a last tranche of several hundred Palestinian prisoners would be released; the United States would free Jonathan Pollard, an American convicted of spying for Israel more than 25 years ago; and the negotiations would continue beyond the April 29 deadline with a slowdown or freeze of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.Then, Livni said, she looked up at a television as she awaited a cabinet meeting and saw Abbas signing letters as part of a process to join 15 international agencies — something he had said he would not do before the deadline.She called Erekat and told him to stop the Palestinian move. He texted her the next day to say he couldn’t. . . .
No Palestinian prisoner release; no freeing of Pollard; no hold on settlement growth. But, in Livni’s account, it might easily have been otherwise.
Talks limped on around the idea of a settlement freeze and other confidence-building measures. Then, on April 23, a reconciliation was announced between Hamas and Abbas’s Fatah — something since proved empty. That, for Netanyahu and Livni, was the end: They were not prepared to engage, even indirectly, with Hamas. . . . Read the entire article online.