When Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas swung through Europe in January he was feted by European leaders for pursuing the two-state formula, while obloquy was, as usual, heaped on Israel – if not for settlements then for roadblocks or water or the wall or the tunnel or the occupation or, most recently, for being niggardly about handing out citizenship on demand to Palestinians… the list goes on.
In London, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, standing shoulder to shoulder with Abbas (aka Abu Mazen), described settlements as acts of “deliberate vandalism” designed to wreck the prospects of a two-state solution.
And in Paris, a French Parliamentary report was published which accused Israel of implementing “apartheid” policies in allocating West Bank water resources (after Israel protested, all members of the working group, including the chairman, dissociated themselves from the report and officially renounced responsibility for its anti-Israel expressions).
Such carefully crafted terms – “vandalism”, “apartheid” – appear deliberately designed to provoke the ritual incantations from the political and media classes: If only the Israelis were less obsessed with their security and more forthcoming on the real issues the Palestinians would have their own state (with Jerusalem as its capital) and Israel and Palestine would live side by side in peaceful neighbourliness. If only.
If only the European leaders would confront reality and persuade their reluctant client to call the bluff of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who declared last month (yet again) that he was prepared “to begin negotiations at any time… I’m ready to get into my car and go to Ramallah, but Abu Mazen isn’t ready.”
If only the Europeans, principal paymasters and chief cheerleaders of the Palestinians, would tell Abbas to sit down and sort out his differences with Israel rather than indulge in playing the victim and joining in the chorus of wailing anguish that emanates spontaneously from the Palestinian areas whenever the television cameras start to roll.
The Palestinians have mastered the art of appearing to embrace the idea of peace but backing away when it becomes tangible, of travelling hopefully while never intending to arrive at the destination – a peace treaty. Twice in the past dozen years – during the premierships of Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert – the Israelis have acquiesced in virtually all Palestinian demands, only to see their interlocutors walk away from the negotiating table at the last minute.
That leaves two questions:
First, why do the Palestinians persist in this pantomime of peace? Because it keeps them on the map, keeps the aid flowing, keeps them from becoming just another corrupt, despotic backwater in a sea of corrupt, despotic Middle East backwaters. Why work when the international community will pay the bill if you are unemployed? Why make peace when statehood would drop you so far down the list of international priorities that you lose much of your aid and become just another failed, fractious state?
But there is yet another reason, one which trumps all others: the Palestinians cannot ultimately make peace because they are politically and psychologically incapable of declaring that the conflict with Israel is over. The conflict is their raison d’etre. It is precisely the conflict that defines them as a people, gives them their identity.
Second, why do the Europeans persist with their sterile game of demonising Israel, which serves only to raise the stakes and harden Palestinian intransigence, if their intention is to contribute to the peace process? Because they can. Because they believe that taking pot shots at Israel buys them brownie points in the Arab world. Because they believe it will assuage their restive Muslim population at home. And because it is a cost-free exercise.
But there is another reason. At an intimate dinner in London last month, one of the jewels in Britain’s diplomatic crown – a former Ambassador to Israel, no less – turned to me and declared bitterly: “If it wasn’t for the Jewish lobby in Washington, we might have a peace treaty by now.”
Dream on, Your Excellency.
European diplomats, like their political masters, have learned nothing from their experience in the Middle East. They continue to see and hear what they want to see and hear, and never mind the reality. But reality is taking giant steps closer. Did His Excellency ever consider that it takes two to tango?
For years, British, French and German foreign ministers have been travelling to Teheran bearing carrots – and sometimes minuscule sticks – in an attempt to divert the Iranians from their nuclear programme. These collective efforts, which concentrated the most powerful European minds on the most critical issue now facing the international community, achieved precisely nothing. The Iranians were happy to run rings around their European interlocutors without ever contemplating the abandonment of their goal.
The reality will become more evident this month [February] when Iran embarks on war-games that will focus on tactics for closing the Strait of Hormuz, the Gulf chokepoint that holds the key to 40% of globally-traded oil.
But wait, Your Excellency. Did you notice that these critical negotiations failed, and not a Jewish lobbyist in sight? Or was this conspiracy just too subtle to notice?