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Which side is frozen in the status quo?

 

 

In the blame game that follows the suspension or failure of the Kerry peace process, one often hears of Israel's satisfaction with, and commitment to the status quo.

 
No doubt many Israelis really do not want to accept the development of a Palestinian state, even though public opinion polls show majorities in favor, and the Prime Minister has said repeatedly that supports its creation.
 
Yet Israeli politics, like those of any functioning democracy, abhors the status quo. Criticism by political competitors, the media, academics, taxi drivers and other common citizens is part of the game. There is always a party or movement maneuvering for advantage, and periodic changes in the composition of the government. 
 
Israel may occasionally continue with the sitting prime minister from one election to another, but there have been many changes at the top. If the prime minister continues, the composition of the government changes with the coming and going of parties in the coalition. 
 
As a result of the most recent election there were changes at the all-important Ministry of Finance, as well as the introduction to the coalition of Yair Lapid, Tsipi Livni, and Naftali Bennett. Livni and Lapid represent a move toward the center, while Bennett tilts to the right, along with an increase in the weight of the right wing of what is now called Likud-Israel our Home. The noise coming from their competitive demands has produced a dynamic environment although not clearly favoring movement in one direction or another.
 
There is no ultra-Orthodox party in this government, and that has allowed a change in how the IDF deals with ultra-Orthodox young men. The major accomplishment may not be to increase greatly the number of Haredim in military uniforms, but to increase the number of those leaving the academies, going to work, and supporting their families. .
 
One shouldn't exaggerate the change in recent Israeli politics. The balance struck between the various moves might have made it more difficult for Prime Minister Netanyahu to have agreed with John Kerry about the Palestinians (assuming that Netanyahu really was inclined to agree), but there has been movement. Netanyahu-led governments approved substantial increases in the number of Palestinians allowed to work in Israel, as well as lessening the barriers to Palestinian movement within the West Bank. It also agreed to a release of prisoners "with blood on their hands" as the price for getting Palestinians to the table.
 
While democratic politics forces change in the status quo, the policies that exist have their own strengths. in both domestic and foreign issues. It is hard to change dramatically or quickly against the interests seeking to protect their turf. Incrementalism is the term for gradual change, which is typical of the give and take among parties and interest groups, against the clamor of media commentators from across the political spectrum. Americans pondering their health insurance options are having a good lesson in the resistance to change associated with competitive politics.
 
It is difficult to comprehend the nature of Palestinian politics. It operates according to a language and cultures that are foreign to westerners. The West Bank leadership has outstayed its tenure of office by more than five years. It is odd that the chorus in favor of democracy and the rights of Palestinians that one hears from the US, the EU, and the UN does not seem bothered by the questionable legitimacy of the Abbas regime.
 
Gaza is something else, governed by a leadership that seems more theocratic than political, with hard to decipher relationships between Hamas and Islamic movements even more extreme on issues concerned with Israel.
 
With all of the appropriate reservations, the better place to find a strong disinclination to move from the status quo with respect to Israel and Palestine is within Palestine.
 
Saeb Erekat has written a lengthy condemnation of Israel's unwillingness to make concessions in the recent negotiations, but does not  indicate what concessions the Palestinians offered. 
 
The essence of Erekat's argument is to bash Israel, without noting any Palestinian contributions to the problems mentioned.
 
"Palestinian reconciliation (between Fatah and Hamas) can be rejected only by those who aim to perpetuate the status quo. This is precisely what the government of Israel has been doing during nine months of negotiations: killing 61 Palestinians, advancing more than 13,000 units in Israeli settlements, conducting almost 4,500 military operations on Palestinian land, demolishing 196 Palestinian homes and allowing more than 660 settler terror attacks against Palestinians.Being consistent with its policies on the ground, Netanyahu’s government has refused to recognize the 1967 border or even put a map on the table proposing Israel’s idea of its final borders. Netanyahu has ensured that he is unable to do this by surrounding himself with the most extremist sectors in Israel, including the settler movement, from which he selected his foreign minister, housing minister and the Knesset speaker. In fact, 28 out of 68 members of his government reject the two-state solution entirely, while others "accept it with reservations,” meaning something very different to two states as stipulated under international law." 

Erekat comes close to admitting the Palestinians' refusal to give and take with this
 
"Frankly, it is difficult to understand how anyone could expect us to negotiate with such a government. And yet we have, in good faith, offering concession after concession for the sake of peace"
 

In all the leaks described by journalists from the left, right, and center, there has been no indication of anything that can be described as Palestinian offers of accommodation. Tsipi Livni spoke several times of significant progress, but failed to specify any details. And she joined the government consensus to break off negotiations in the context of Palestinians' turn to international organizations and its alliance with Hamas. In one of her most recent interviews, she said that the Israeli side had spent most of the recent months negotiating with Americans and not with Palestinians, and that it was the Palestinians who spoiled the American efforts at "getting out of the . . .  tunnel".

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Nahum Barnea has an lengthy article coming from his conversations with an unnamed senior American, said to have been Martin Indyck, which suggests that the Palestinians made occasional indications of flexibility, but nothing that would give the Americans leverage against the Israelis.
 
The impression, from Barnea's article and from other commentary is that both Palestinians and Israelis were marking time in those negotiations, primarily to please Americans who insisted that there be negotiations. Both Palestinians and Israelis indicated strong doubts from the beginning, so it is appropriate to wonder why the Americans pressed so hard for something that seemed destined to fail, and then did fail.
 
Barnea's American source emphasized the role of the recent announcement by Israel's Minister of Housing and Construction to approve the building of several hundred new units in Gilo as a "settlement" expansion that caused the Palestinians to take the steps that ended the talks. 
 
Gilo has been a sizable Jerusalem neighborhood for more than 40 years, and by all reports both the Americans and Palestinians long ago conceded that such neighborhoods would remain in Israel. Insofar as the Palestinians used those units as their excuse for drastic action, it adds to the impression that they were never serious about reaching an agreement. And insofar as those units seemed to disappoint and even anger ranking Americans, it adds to the impression that they were naive about the basic nature of Israel. It is hard to imagine any Israeli political party voting to uproot the more than 40,000 Israeli residents of Gilo. 
 
It was the Palestinians who rejected Kerry's framework proposal, just at they rejected what Ehud Olmert offered in 2007 and Ehud Barak together with Bill Clinton in 2000.
 
If Israelis in the government or outside have tired of Palestinian rejections and obfuscation, such fatigue appears reasonable, at least to Israelis.
 
It will take a while to see if others tire of our problems, and concentrate on what seems the more pressing issues of Ukraine and maybe its neighbors alongside of Russia.
 

 
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