The Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, already on life support for months, could flatline this weekend. The issue now is not whether the negotiations will collapse, but who will take the primary blame for it.
Media reports in Israel this week said that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told President Obama at the White House, during their recent meeting, that the PA would not recognize Israel as a Jewish state, would not give up on the “right of return” of Palestinians to Israel, and would not commit to having a peace deal mark the end of the conflict. That adds up to “No” three times on core issues, a disturbing echo of the infamous “Three No’s” that resulted from the Arab League summit at Khartoum two months after the Six-Day War in 1967: no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with Israel.
One would think that, if true, the current dead-end response from Abbas, particularly after Obama went out of his way to welcome him warmly as a leader seeking peace, would signal that the Palestinians are the party that nixed the U.S.-brokered talks. But the Palestinians appear to have a different scenario in mind, one that puts the onus on Israel and allows them to go back to pursuing their “diplomatic intifada” via the United Nations and its agencies.
On March 29, Israel is supposed to release 26 Palestinian security prisoners, the last installment of the prisoner release called for last summer in the framework for negotiations. There is domestic pressure on Prime Minister Netanyahu, and particularly within his Likud Party, to postpone or cancel the release of the prisoners this weekend. With the Palestinians showing zero flexibility, why should Jerusalem free prisoners, some of whom are responsible for terror attacks and the deaths of innocent Israelis?
Adding to that pressure, as is often the case, is politics. Likud is set to hold its convention two days later, and though Netanyahu seems to have little to worry about in the way of competition, he would much prefer not being in the party spotlight after appearing to accede to unreasonable Palestinian demands.
Will he, instead, give in to insistent calls for a building freeze in the settlements? That appears to us the more reasonable and moral choice than freeing terrorists to keep the talks going. But if the reports are true about Abbas endorsing a dead-end position, the issue is moot and it’s clearly the Palestinians who are the culprits here.
The question is whether the Obama administration will see it that way.