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.
Tzipi Livni forget one thing in her description, and for some reason Cohen didn’t challenge or correct her in his column:
Abbas announced that the Palestinians would become signatories to the 15 international organizations only after Netanyahu did not keep to the time-table of the release of the 4th batch of Palestinian prisoners, as had been agreed upon in the negotiations. Abbas then felt compelled to act, in terms of his own internal public opinion.
I will add that there is no evidence that Netanyahu was ready to agree to negotiations based upon the 1967 borders.
As for reconciliation, Cohen is correct in writing that it is leading nowhere right now. But when it was announced, it was carried out on Fatah’s terms, meaning a readiness to negotiate with the Israeli government towards a peace treaty based upon a two-state solution. Hamas, in its weakened position before the summer war, essentially gave in to Fatah, and accepted the terms of the international community and Israel for the sake of reconciliation. And there are no Hamas ministers in the reconciliation government, only people close to Fatah, The Third Way and independents. An end of the split and national reconciliation is essentially the demand of Palestinian public opinion. If Netanyahu had been more forthcoming, Abbas would not have felt it necessary to move on reconciliation.
A good comment, Hillel. I’ve always found Roger Cohen well-intentioned but not a particularly deep thinker. Part of the political problem here is that what the Palestinian public demands (reconciliation with Hamas) is unacceptable to Israeli public opinion.
Yes, good thinking Ralph, I’m sure it’s wise to rely 100% on Tzipi’s account. No reason to bother asking any Palestinians, as Tzipi represents both them and their interests. In fact she can just negotiate with herself!