Even a one- or two-month extension of Israel’s ten-month settlement moratorium, senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat announced on Sunday, wouldn’t suffice. Nothing less than a total freeze throughout the duration of Israeli-Palestinian talks would be acceptable.
Erekat was adding some spice to an international full-court press on Israel. On Friday, the Arab League, meeting in Libya—not exactly a beacon of advanced values—gave backing to Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas’s refusal to conduct the talks without a settlement freeze. The league also handed the Obama administration a further month to try and break the Israeli-Palestinian impasse over the freeze.
That month, of course, could get the administration past November 2 without appearing responsible for a foreign policy failure if the talks-over-the-talks come up empty at the end.
The facts of the case are quite straightforward. If the Palestinians really wanted the state that President Obama and so many others presume to be their most cherished aspiration—despite having rejected every offer of a state since 1937—they could have joined talks with Israel at least since its settlement freeze began in November last year. Even if the PA leadership had done so, there would still be the facts that: Gaza is controlled by Hamas, which is dead-set against the talks; and PA leaders Abbas and Salam Fayyad, even if they genuinely wanted a deal, have little power and face staunch opposition to even talking with Israel in PA circles as well.
And yet, also on Sunday, another voice was added—from within Israel—to the Arab, Palestinian, American, and European pressure on Israel to make concession upon concession as a condition for engaging in talks at all. It was the voice of Israel’s opposition leader and former foreign minister, Tzipi Livni.
Asserting that Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu should give in to the pressure and extend the freeze, and accusing him of causing a fight with the Obama administration out of fear of fighting with his own right-wing cabinet ministers, Livni said in a TV interview: “For me, a moratorium has nothing to do with ideology. What are a few buildings compared with the people’s desire for peace?”
It so happens that the “people’s desire” has been gauged by polls. One at the end of last month found 54% of Israelis rejecting an extension of the settlement freeze and only 39% favoring it. Another one this month found 68% of Israelis saying Netanyahu was better suited to be prime minister than Livni.
This did not come, of course, from a lack of desire for peace, but from an understanding that acting without a backbone, constantly projecting a willingness to concede, and a lack of principles and red lines, is not a path to peace but to perceived weakness and war—as bitterly demonstrated to Israelis over the past two decades by their Oslo, Lebanon, and Gaza concessions.
With Livni as unpopular as she is, one might ask if her words matter at this stage. The answer is that they fit a pattern that has prevailed since a Likud-led government first took office in Israel in 1977—whereby the left-of-center opposition, formerly led by the Labor Party and now by Livni’s Kadima Party, adopts the stance that peace with the Palestinian or Arab side is there for the taking and it’s the elected Israeli government that prevents it.
Indeed, by the time Labor returned to power in 1992, it seemed to have convinced itself of that idea to the point that it launched the disastrous, bloody Oslo “process” with Yasser Arafat. And beyond the grievous harm that the “peace equals concessions” mentality causes within Israel, it reinforces all those abroad who blame the conflict on Israel and ignore the facts about Palestinian and Arab rejection of a Jewish state.
There is no record, for instance, of the TV interviewer asking Livni if she herself believes Israel can make peace with the rulers of Gaza—Hamas. Nor does she seem to have been reminded that the prime minister she served under, Ehud Olmert, admitted that Abbas, for his part, had turned down flat Olmert’s own ultra-dovish peace offer—or been asked why she posits that a further offer to Abbas would meet a different fate.
The second above-cited poll also found that, if elections were held in Israel today, the Likud-led right-wing bloc would grow from 65 to 73 Knesset seats (out of 120) while the left-wing and Arab bloc now led by Livni’s Kadima would shrink from 55 seats to 47. In brief, the Israeli public is no longer buying the “peace is there for the taking if we make all the concessions” line.
Livni, in continuing to push that line, keeps harming Israel, but also seems intent on making herself a political nonplayer.