With the Arab League literally forcing Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas to agree to direct negotiations with Israel, Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu must be thinking he's one shrewd fox.
Now he can go into talks that probably won't last long, talks that most people know will fail. And the whole time he'll be able to claim "Look, I'm talking! I'm negotiating peace!"
One may think it possible to blame both sides for the inevitable outcome of these "negotiations", but Netanyahu has already alluded to the certain failure when he told Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos in Jerusalem last Wednesday that continuing the construction freeze in the West Bank after it expires on September 26 would be impossible politically and would bring down his coalition. That pretty much said how far the Israeli prime minister is willing to go for peace.
When his ministers asked him on Sunday whether the freeze would be extended, he said no. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has also repeatedly said that there is no chance for the settlement freeze to be renewed.
If this is indeed the case, Netanyahu can't continue the settlement freeze without toppling the government, then how can he even think of attempting to dismantle an illegal outpost deep in the heart of Samaria?
Not going to happen.
Yet, direct negotiations will most probably begin, despite the belief held by most. But the situation today is different than the one ahead of the Camp David talks in 2000. First, Israel is no longer in Gaza (albeit, quite firmly around it) and Hamas is in power in the Strip. Palestinian leadership is divided.
Moreover, the Israeli public has moved further to the right and put an extreme government in power, even though more Israelis now accept the idea of a two state solution then they did back in 2000. Public opinion in America, particularly amongst Jews, however, is now far less supportive of every action Israel takes. All this makes for a very different backdrop, yet still the very real fear is that the ending can't be good.
As Israeli journalist Noam Sheizaf points out, despite the different backdrop there are many striking similarities and the chance that violence will erupt again when talks fail is not slim.
"The last time the Palestinians were forced to negotiate with Israel against their will was at Camp David. Back then, the Oslo agreements reached a dead end (a leaked video recently revealed PM Netanyahu boasting on how he managed to stop Oslo), hostility and mistrust were on the rise, and an Israeli leadership, with the help of an American administration eager for immediate success, tried to impose a final agreement."
And if indeed they are destined to fail, I only have one thing to say: Let them fail.
And let them fail fast. The sooner the better.
Let's allow Netanyahu to have his fun stalling for a bit, and then -- unfortunately -- let the violence begin. But let's just get it over and done with. Let's quickly read through this "Chronicle of an Intifada Foretold."
Because, as Lara Friedman pointed out recently on Foreign Policy, the talks are'nt the real issue:
"Many are suggesting today that Abbas should agree to direct talks to call Netanyahu's bluff, but if the day arrives when Netanyahu's game-playing and provocations are turning direct talks into a farce, it will be the actions and statements of the United States, not Abbas, that will determine whether Netanyahu gets away with it."
Unfortunately, this is the only way to go. The only way for U.S. President Barack Obama to get to the next stage of true pressure, with worldwide support, is after he can show that all else has failed. That the path of negotiations has reached a dead end.
Call me naive, but I'm pretty sure that nobody in the Obama administration actually believes something will come out of these talks. I'm actually hoping that the White House staff has already prepared a plan for precisely that day when Netanyahu's bluff is called. Because let's face it, at the end of the day, these talks -- more than a test for Israelis and Palestinians - are a test for the Obama administration.
So yes, let the negotiations begin immediately, and let us hope for their quick demise. Let's get to that point where Obama has to play hardball. Let's get to that crossroads where Obama will have to finally prove whether he has what it takes to make Israel deliver, or if he's merely another Clinton.
Time is of the essence. And we've got more important things to deal with.
So let these "talks" fail. Quickly.