When reviewing history, there’s interpretation, and then there’s just flat-out misleading your readers. Jackson Diehl’s editorial today is an example of the latter:
Eighteen months ago, when the then-new Obama administration tried to jump start Middle East peace negotiations, the Palestinian president balked. He said he would not agree even to meet the newly-elected Israeli Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, unless Netanyahu made several big concessions in advance — including recognition of a Palestinian state on the basis of Israel’s 1967 borders and a freeze on all Jewish settlement construction in the West Bank.
Convinced that Netanyahu was the problem, the Obama administration spent the next year in a crude and clumsy effort to extract those concessions. Netanyahu stoutly resisted; the administration belatedly discovered that it could not compel a democratic ally to comply with its demands. Eventually a rough compromise emerged: Netanyahu publicly accepted the idea, but not the pre-defined borders, of a Palestinian state; and he imposed a partial and temporary freeze on the settlements, which is due to expire in September.
This is just unreal. For a start, neither recognition of a Palestinian state on the basis of the 1967 borders nor a settlement freeze are in any sense Israeli “concessions” — they are commitments that Israeli had already made as part of the Bush administration-led Quartet’s 2002 road map. Netanyahu came into office and refused to honor those commitments, holding out and essentially insisting that Israel be paid twice for the same goods. Diehl assists in this scam when he writes as if it’s somehow inappropriate for an American president to try to “compel a democratic ally to comply” with agreements it was refusing to honor.
Add to this the fact the so-called “moratorium” — in which Netanyahu begrudgingly agreed to partially fulfill Israel’s commitment to halt settlements — has turned out to be a complete farce, with the New York Times reporting in July that, because of a massive surge in settlement starts before it took hold, the pace of settlement building during the “moratorium” has “remained largely unchanged.” Having reaped American praise for finally adhering to obligations that Israel had already made, Netanyahu went ahead and found ways to get around those obligations anyway.
And then today comes the news that Netanyahu has rejected the 1967 borders as a basis for negotiation — which is to say he rejects the very basis upon which both the U.S. and the international community has for decades, and through multiple resolutions, held that the conflict would be resolved. What will probably happen is that, a few weeks or months from now, Netanyahu will, after having extracted further (actual) concessions from the U.S., agree to kind of sort of (not really) consider the 1967 borders, and then Jackson Diehl can write another op-ed portraying this as another bold stroke for peace.
While I would rather see Abbas agree to direct talks and call Netanyahu’s bluff (the Palestinians have already submitted a proposal on borders to the Israelis, to which the Israelis have yet to respond, just as they have yet to respond to the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative), it’s really not hard to understand why Abbas would resist having his already-shaky domestic credibility further undermined by being drawn into such a process.
When I was in Israel recently, a former Israeli government official remarked to me that given that the Palestinians have fulfilled most of their road map obligations, the Israelis “are desperate to find evidence of Palestinian wrongdoing” in order to combat the perception that it is the Israelis who are the intransigent party. This helps explain the increased Israeli focus on Palestinian incitement against Israel, which is still very much a problem, though one that has vastly improved over the past years, in keeping with Palestinians’ road map commitment to improve it. Somehow I doubt that Diehl would praise Abbas’ “stout resistance” if Abbas began treating the P.A.’s past commitments on incitement as a new “concession.” It’s a mystery why Diehl is willing to assist Netanyahu in a similar misrepresentation.