Netanyahu is interested in all-out negotiations on all the core issues. Obama is seeing the settlements as an obstacle that will turn any negotiations into a predictable failure.
The dynamic between Washington and Jerusalem in the last week, as it has been revealing itself, could be allegorized as a relationship between two parallel lines which are never going to meet: on one side, President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton are interested in the renewal of the political negotiations as soon as possible; on the other side, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not hurrying anywhere and takes his time, as if he knows that the new Republican-led Congress taking over (expected to assemble for the first time at the beginning of January) will rescue him from the claws of the president.
This week, The New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote another piece where he opted to frontally tongue-lash Netanyahu (and Abu Mazen) and called for the American administration to stop being “crack dealers” of Israel. Even if his writing does not express the general spirit in the United States, it is indeed exactly the feeling in the White House. The column is verily Friedman’s, but the heart of the thoughts — maybe in a less extreme tone — are Obama’s. Not in vain was Friedman regarded as the voice of the president during the election campaign where the latter won over John McCain.
Netanyahu is perceived in the White House as an indefatigable objector to peace whose mouth doesn’t match his heart, a leader who’s not capable and, to a large extent, not interested enough to overcome the resistance of two parties in his coalition and freeze the construction in the settlements for three additional months — even in exchange for an impressive benefits package. Were it depending only on Obama, he would sign a coalition agreement himself with Kadima and Tzipi Livni (invited to a confidential meeting in Washington in the passing week)
Abu Mazen Is Looking for a Declaration
So while Netanyahu, Obama, Clinton and their envoys of all kinds are carrying on discussions over the new formula to bring about a fast resumption of the negotiations, Abu Mazen is using his time for the sake of gathering international support for the idea of unilateral proclamation of the Free State of Palestine, as he defined it. While Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay have already manifested their readiness to recognize such a state, isn’t it also the case that the U.S. House of Representatives has adopted, earlier this morning, an unanimous resolution according to which the United States won’t recognize a declaration of this kind, which is not in the framework of orderly deliberations with Israel. In this case, by the way, Israel, the U.S. Congress and Obama see eye to eye, as I wrote last week.
The main reason for Obama’s opposing a unilateral declaration on establishment of the Palestinian State originates directly from his desire to show to the world that, despite the continuing decrease in the global status of the United States generally, with respect to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict the United States is still the senior mediator calling the shots. The suspicion of the Americans becomes more real when they see Lula, the president of Brazil, soon to leave office, and Medvedev (expected to visit Israel in the coming months) taking tours in the Holy Land.
If we concentrate on pure and simple political analysis, the prime minister is pinning his hopes on the newly-elected Republican Congress. Netanyahu, tagged by numerous newspapers in the United States as the real winner of the midterm elections, believes that the pro-Israeli leadership in the House of Representatives, in addition to the shrinking Democratic majority in the Senate, is going to help him change the tone toward Israel and stop the incessant pressure on his government. Thus, at least as far as recent events go, Netanyahu does not have many reasons to rejoice because, from the moment the United States had announced the fiasco of the talks about the freeze, there is not even one Republican guru around who has publicly endorsed Netanyahu’s declining the offer delivered to him.
Practically all of the coming week is predicted to be dedicated to continuation of the talks between the sides in the name of finding the compromise formulation which would bring the parties back to indirect negotiations. The equation is simple: Netanyahu is interested in comprehensive negotiations on all of the core issues with no preconditions. Clinton and Obama are viewing the settlements, which are going to turn whatever negotiations into an anticipated failure, as a preliminary obstacle. And, in the meantime, Abu Mazen does not at all want to discuss all the core issues but rather to fix the borders of the future state.
This is the way parallels go.