At a briefing for the Israeli press in New York yesterday, I asked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on behalf of "Globes", why was it so difficult to meet Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas? After all, former prime minister Ehud Olmert called him and met him in Paris. Leader of the Opposition Tzipi Livni called him and met him in New York. Both these people, incidentally, grew up in the Likud. Now they see fit to talk and meet Abbas. Only for Israel's prime minister is it an inconceivable move, something beyond the Mountains of Darkness.
Netanyahu always has an ad hoc explanation for not meeting people. Now he's resorting to the peace moves of President Donald Trump. Is it imaginable, he said, that while Trump intends to present a peace plan, he will run and meet Abbas in a sort of preemptive strike? Absolutely not. He will wait until Trump presents his peace plan. If that's what everything depends on, then it will be forever impossible to meet; nor was it possible to meet before now, because Trump has been making declarations about his solution to the conflict for more than a year.
Netanyahu says that he involves Abbas when problems arise, but "I haven't spoken to him by telephone, I haven't worked with him directly. The US is formulating its proposal. We'll let it finish."
Later in the briefing, Netanyahu explained that the concept of a "state" here isn't what people think (including the Americans, apparently). It's a matter of self-government, without borders with Jordan, demilitarized, and preserving Israel's security interests at every point. The US understands Israel's security needs very well, Netanyahu said.
The Habayit Hayehudi party leapt on these statements to disown the idea. "Setting up a Palestinian state in the area of Judea and Samaria is a bad solution, and as long as Habayit Hayehudi is in the government, it won't happen. Not a state-minus and not a state-plus," Minister of Justice Ayelet Shaked said in a statement sent to the correspondents' WhatsApp group while the meeting with Netanyahu was still going on.
One reporter read out Shaked's text to Netanyahu. The prime minister's response was similar to when he was asked about Livni and Olmert's meetings with Mahmoud Abbas: a shrug of the shoulders, complete contempt, a supercilious smile. Who knows, perhaps Habayit Hayehudi won't be in the next government? Let them publish their fervid statements. As they say in New York, water under the bridge.
Netanyahu is due to address the UN General Assembly this evening. What is a "state-minus" in Netanyahu's book? On several occasions in the past he has stated that the most he can give the Palestinians is much less that the minimum they can accept. That's the main conclusion I came away with from yesterday's meeting. The concept of a Palestinian state makes him laugh. Talk of solutions of this kind is no more than fantasy.
Netanyahu has said several times that settlements will not be evacuated. "We shall continue to settle because it's our ancestral legacy. This is our country, and we have returned to it to stay. There will be no more uprooting of settlements. Besides, it has been proven not to work," he has said on a number of occasions.
Dividing Jerusalem is not on the agenda. Creating territorial contiguity for the Palestinians - no way. The self-government that is the state-minus that Netanyahu talks about is the current situation. What will be the difference, supposedly? The difference will be a speech by President Trump in which he will declare that the situation on the ground has changed and that now there is something called "The State of Palestine".
Trump spoke of a two-state solution and then one state, or whatever emerges. As far as Netanyahu is concerned, it really makes no difference, and anyone who tries to read the prime minister differently is divorced from reality. The Palestinian entity will not undergo any change while he is in office, that's obvious. Netanyahu will wait politely while Trump's boys continue to work and to publish their materials. He's betting on Abbas's intransigence, or his advanced age. If Abbas suddenly becomes a Zionist or is restored to health and a long life, then violent terrorists will come along and make it all impossible (that's for sure).
In time, Netanyahu will prove (even) to President Trump that the idea is hopeless. Even if some kind of peace plan is published in three or four months' time, as Trump says it will, Israel will enter into an election campaign, and Kushner and Greenblatt's plan can be filed away to gather dust.
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on September 27, 2018
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