Despite Israel’s perceived strength it really isn’t in a position to bargain. America is now the only dependable ally, having lost Europe after the Gaza war. Turkey has renewed the diplomatic vigor against Israel’s hostility towards Iran and unilateral actions in the Palestinian territories while the Arab League, sensing blood, is circling the waters.
The Palestinians hold a strong hand and don’t need to rush into direct talks. Nor is the traditional fear of obstructing direct talks as high with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu squeezed internally from both sides and masquerading around “peace." It would seem extra unwise, then, to try and bluff at a time like now.
Sadly Israel’s latest behavior is no surprise.
Many opportunities to build true confidence were presented to Netanyahu after leaving Washington last week. But having “reset” his relationship with President Barack Obama before outmaneuvering him at the pro-Israeli Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), Netanyahu erroneously believed he held the leverage to pressure the Palestinians into immediate direct talks. The topic would dominate his trip to Washington and the following days.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who Netanyahu personally criticized in New York, naturally objected to such arm-twisting. The PLO accurately predicted that Netanyahu’s popularity would soon fade after leaving America and that the Palestinians would retain the advantage into September, when the UN is due to consider Palestinian statehood. Their cool reply left the door open for direct talks - as long as Netanyahu proves he means peace.
But Netanyahu abruptly declared that he won’t extend a settlement freeze in the West Bank beyond its September deadline, let alone consider a freeze in East Jerusalem. Talk of ending select IDF operations in the West Bank, an evasion tactic, didn’t get far. Their high numbers place these operations at checkpoint status; Palestinians want to get rid of them, but this isn’t the issue in question.
With the Gaza blockade relaxed as far as Israel will go, its probe into the Freedom flotilla raid offered the best alternative to level with the Palestinians. The incident resonated so broadly that rectifying it could have provided the necessary goodwill to cover Abbas. As the situation stands a Haaretz editorial is blasting Netanyahu for cowardly avoiding the probe and hanging Israeli soldiers out to dry.
So imagine how Muslims and many non-Muslims are feeling.
The Eiland team and Turkel Committee ultimately concluded, “There were mistakes, also on the high military levels, but happily, they were not the result of negligence.” Headlines paradoxically smashed together “flotilla raid flawed,” “killings justified,” and “commandos praised.” Israeli officials claimed the investigation was held to the highest international standard. Turkey swiftly dismissed it as insufficient and the Arab League is likely to follow suit.
Additional investigations remain a possibility, but Israel is unlikely to follow through based on its prior behavior.
In what appears to be Netanyahu’s old but new hardball tactic, “Israeli bulldozers destroyed six buildings, including at least three homes, in contested east Jerusalem on Tuesday, resuming the demolition of Palestinian property after a halt aimed at encouraging peace talks. The municipality said none of the structures razed were homes, and that all had been illegally built and were not populated... Palestinians disputed those claims, saying three of the demolished structures were homes and one was a warehouse.”
“Since October, no houses had been demolished in the eastern sector of the city until Tuesday,” reports the Associated Press. “The demolitions seemed to indicate a move away from the unofficial freeze on them, which Israel imposed after much criticism from Washington.”
The bulldozers came one day after Jerusalem’s municipal committee gave preliminary approval to 32 new apartments in a Jewish neighborhood in east Jerusalem, “rolling back a decision earlier this year to quietly put new projects on hold.” Construction of existing projects is ongoing, meaning direct talks remain off. The Arab League condemned the approval and Saeb Erekat, chief negotiator for the Palestinians, deplored, "This government of Israel has been given the choice between settlements and peace and it is obvious that it chose settlements.”
Israel’s actions, self-destructive as they are, inevitably harm those around it as well, and this is the larger picture now. Forced into protesting, US State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley insisted, “We continue to oppose and will make clear to the government of Israel that we oppose unilateral actions that prejudge negotiations.”
Crowley may believe he’s fulfilling repeated promises to "hold Israel accountable" for unilaterally provocative actions, yet Washington isn’t even doing too little, too late. It’s never been enough and may never be enough. How can America oppose and clarify to Israel any more directly than meetings between Obama and Netanyahu? The US military or Congress aren’t realistic solutions especially with Congressional elections on the horizon.
Once again America is unable to control Israel in the slightest, reducing confidence in both Netanyahu and Obama going into the pivotal months ahead. Confrontation at the UN seems inevitable.
The Palestinians have heard the direct talk: "The US has made it clear that it disagrees with some government of Israel actions in Jerusalem that affect Palestinians in areas such as housing, including home demolitions, and has urged all parties to avoid actions that could undermine trust.”
Still no direct action in sight.