A breakdown of recent statements by principal players in the Kerry-led peace process.
The Israeli/Palestinian negotiations remind me of a volleyball court. With a lack of hard information available to the public, each player punts a ball into the air at regular intervals with identifying marks on it, to remind everyone that he or she is still there for ten seconds before the ball drops and another pops up.
These blips sound like a standard shouting match on the surface. But their subtext can give a snapshot of the peace process at this moment – and reveal why it’s so frail. Below are some of the recent statements by key players (paraphrased) that stood out to me, in no particular order, and my interpretation of what they mean.
-Naftali Bennett: “We have to look at the document before we decide whether to leave or stay in the coalition!” Translation: Please, please don’t make us bolt. We are desperate to stick to our first shot at power, build our electoral base beyond settlers and look very credible in other areas of life – including a slick call in the New York Times to bring Arab Israeli women and ultra-Orthodox into the work force. We just need to crack the big-party club and take power one day in order to ensure implementation of Naftali Bennett’s own plan for full Israeli control from the river to the sea, forever.
-Hamas (in Haaretz): “We won’t accept an international presence in Palestinian territory after the occupation army leaves!” Translation: We expect the IDF to leave the West Bank, which is what we now mean by Palestinian territory. We’re too weak to throw around our old maximalist rhetoric about pre-1967 Israel and our people are too fed up to take us seriously if we do.
-Netanyahu: “There is no reason Jews can’t stay there after the Palestinian state is established, just like we have an Arab minority!” Translation: This refers to Jews outside the large settlement blocs, and maybe I can provoke the Palestinian leadership to look like rejectionists. It’s a safe bet Abu Mazen says no: settlers who live that far inside the West Bank are often extremists and provocateurs, committed messianic expansionists – some are violent. Parallels to the Arab minority in Israel, who are primarily peaceful integrationists, are disingenuous but I’m hoping no one notices because it sounds nice and symmetrical.
-Abu Mazen: “There is no need to divide Jerusalem afresh,” and “We do not plan to flood Israel with refugees!” (from his talk with Israeli students visiting Ramallah, and a pamphlet distributed at the event written in perfect Hebrew). Translation: This is Fatah’s beyond-last chance at success, and we’d be idiots to wait for the Israeli government to come around. So we’re calling on the Israeli public to stop demonizing us and come to its senses by saying reasonable things in a firm, dignified way. Hopefully Palestinians won’t read the text, otherwise we’ll catch flak for being so ingratiating to occupiers.
-Hamas – responding to Abu Mazen, above: “We condemn this act of normalization with the occupiers and call for an end to the negotiations!” Translation: We have nothing new to say but we need to say something that will blend in with the scenery.
-Avigdor Liberman: “I will not support a two-state solution that does not include transfer of the Triangle and Wadi Ara.” Translation: Now that I’ve convinced everyone how moderate I am, I can laugh in your faces with a plan to disenfranchise roughly 300,000 Israelis of their citizenship, against their will. Who cares if this can be construed as another Nakba, destroying the political life of Israeli citizens? (Shame on any serious policymaker who takes this seriously – DS.)
-Tzipi Livni: “We are about to witness a tsunami!” (re: boycott and anti-Israel activism around the world). And to Netanyahu (in Maariv): “Boot Bennett out of the coalition before he bolts, bring in Labor and the ultra-Orthodox parties – for the sake of peace, I’ll wear a shtreimel!” Translation: After two shameful wars during my previous government, and dead silence while I was in opposition, I am finally taking political risks to advance an agreement instead of drowning it in talks. Better late than never. And everyone needs a political brand.
-The Israeli Public: _______________. (Yes, you heard correctly.) Translation: The Arabs are the same Arabs, the sea is the same sea (it works in Hebrew). Leaders play games while we try to pay rent. As long as those recent explosions come from gas balloons, we’ll cope; if they were terror attacks, we’d actively resist even the process. For now, over 60 percent of us support negotiations, only one-quarter think they’ll get anywhere. Israeli Jews are united over three things: 77 percent agree that Palestinians must recognize a Jewish state; 80 percent oppose the return of a limited number of refugees, and 74 percent oppose acknowledging Israel’s partial responsibility for Palestinian suffering. Don’t look for us in the town square.
-The Palestinian public: Over half supports a two-state solution; about half approve the full detailed package according to the Clinton/Geneva parameters, and the Saudi peace plan. Two-thirds support the “end of conflict” clause: ending all claims on the other side, and mutual recognition of “each state as the homeland of its people.” Translation: Half says, anything is better than our reality now. Half says – we’ll believe it when we see it, but for now – we won’t get fooled again.