Three weeks ago, we asked whether America’s Middle East diplomacy had failed. Today, not unexpectedly, came the confirmation that such was the case with the news that efforts to renew direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians had foundered.
All three parties bear some responsibility for this failure. Prime Minister Netanyahu seemed more concerned with keeping his right-wing coalition together than with making the kind of gestures that might have persuaded the Palestinians that he was serious about wanting to reach an agreement with them.
Meanwhile, Mahmoud Abbas was equally stubborn in making preconditions for negotiations that he knew full well were a non-starter. No Israeli government would have agreed to an ongoing moratorium on building in Jerusalem. Furthermore, recent assertions on the website of the Palestinian Authority claiming that the Western Wall belonged to Islam have also contributed to an Israeli distrust of the Palestinian end game.
Not that the U.S. Administration has been without fault. President Obama was responsible for allowing the demand for a freeze on building to become a pre-condition for direct talks, while his recent request for a three month extension on the moratorium without any clear indication of what would happen once that period had come to a conclusion only served to heighten the feeling that the current initiative was half baked.
America’s inability to persuade the parties to negotiate combined with the obstinacy displayed by both sides and the clumsy manner in which the whole affair was handled, leave the Middle East in a stalemate that is not in Israel’s interests.
Although only declarative in nature, announcements made in recent days by Uruguay, Brazil and Argentina recognizing Palestinian statehood may well be a harbinger of things to come, and Netanyahu’s government would be well advised to take the initiative in moving the peace process forward before Israel becomes the victim of circumstances beyond her control.
Unfortunately, in the aftermath of the Carmel Forest fire, Israelis seem more interested in conducting a witch hunt after those responsible for the inadequacy of her fire fighting forces than in addressing the far more serious fires burning on our borders.
Just as the fires in the north caught Israel unprepared, developments on the political and military fronts could also find our leaders wanting. Many will see it as more than a little ironic that Palestinians volunteered to join forces with Israeli fire fighters in tackling the blaze in the Carmel Forest while Abbas was unwilling to sit down with Netanyahu to talk peace.