It’s a good thing I’m not a diplomat working on the non-existent Israeli-Palestinian “peace process,” a 25-year pipe dream that left the Emergency Room years ago for the coma unit. I mean, what would I tell my boss? Sorry, I can’t work on a project that is guaranteed to go nowhere and will only lead to more cynicism?
Luckily, I’m no diplomat, nor do I work at a think tank or organization that gets paid to show optimism. I can tell you exactly what I think.
And here’s what I think: I’ve been following the Israeli-Palestinian peace process since the Oslo days in the early 1990s, and I think it’s the biggest fake news in the world.
When I see President Trump get all excited about making “the ultimate deal,” I roll my eyes. All I see is another Western dreamer about to be sucked into the labyrinth of a Mideast bazaar, where a truth is only uttered by accident.
The prince of this peace bazaar is the formidable Mahmoud Abbas, the wily and duplicitous Palestinian leader who says with a straight face that he wants peace and a two-state solution. The fact that he has never actually put an offer on the table is an inconvenient detail. What matters is that he has evaded all responsibility and convinced the world that Israel is the real obstacle to peace.
The losing merchant in the bazaar is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who thinks he’s winning because he hasn’t yet given up anything. What Bibi doesn’t seem to fully appreciate is that as long as the world blames Israel for the conflict, he will remain the losing merchant.
And now, here comes the original artist of the deal, the leader of the free world who thinks he can pull off a miracle. “We will get this done,” President Trump has announced.
Caught up in his miracle deal, Trump barely noticed when Abbas showed up for an official visit at the White House and started seducing him. The shrewd Abbas brazenly lied that Palestinian society is being raised on a “culture of peace.” Instead of pushing back, the president kept pushing his dream, obviously ignoring bazaar rule #1: Never show your zeal to make a deal.
Now that Trump is hooked, Mahmoud Abbas will work his game. He will tantalize Trump with empty promises and pressure Bibi to deliver on concrete ones. He will put all the blame and responsibility on Israel. He will involve other players so he can hide behind them. In sum, he’ll do whatever he can to undermine the Jewish state and make Bibi sweat. That’s his game.
The dark secret of the conflict is that Abbas is perfectly happy not to resolve it. His nightmare is the creation of a Palestinian state next to Israel, which would mean that the hated Zionist state would survive as a Jewish democracy. Why would a Palestinian leader ever want to rescue the Zionist project?
Abbas also knows that the “Israeli occupation” is his ATM machine. As long as it continues, he has the best of both worlds: He gets to bash Israel in global circles while the foreign aid keeps flowing into his bank accounts. And let’s remember this other detail: With Israel protecting the West Bank, Abbas never has to worry that Hamas and ISIS will swoop in and turn Ramallah into Aleppo.
Forget all the rational explanations you hear, such as, “The most Israel can offer is less than the Palestinians can accept.” That makes it look like a normal conflict where the parties are too far apart. It’s not about that. It’s about the unspoken reality that Palestinian leaders have enormous incentives NOT to separate from Israel, and no amount of Israeli concessions or peace processing will ever change that.
In other words, if separation from the Palestinians is your ideal endgame, forget about making a deal. The only chance of that happening is if Israel makes unilateral moves.
In the meantime, if Bibi is tired of seeing Israel get blamed for the conflict, there is one move he can make: When he meets with Trump in Israel next week, he could say: “Mr. President, Israel has made several offers in the past to end the conflict. To show us that he is serious about peace, it’s time for Mr. Abbas to do the same. When you see him, please ask him to stop funding terrorism and promoting Jew-hatred, and ask him to present you with a specific proposal to end the conflict once and for all.”
Will Abbas do it? Never. Not because he can’t, but because he doesn’t want to. Bibi knows that. He should make sure Trump and the rest of the world know it, too.