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Dr. Josef Olmert

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A Week After the UN-Showdown, Interim Report II

Posted: 09/30/11 05:01 PM ET

Middle East politics are reputed to be unpredictable, particularly with regard to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Not this time. All seems to be so expected, tiringly and depressingly so. The two sides say and do exactly what should not be said and done, if the idea is to use the UN deliberations as a launching pad for a new round of negotiations, something that they both claim to be committed to.

Let's start with Netanyahu. He has many reasons to feel vindicated about his policy, considering the fact that the sky did not fall on him in New York and the dire predictions of his rivals, both inside and outside of Israel, proved so wrong. So, instead of capitalizing on it and offering creative new ideas as to how to move the stalled peace process onwards, he approved plans to build 1,100 housing units in Gilo, a suburb of Jerusalem near Beit Lehem, which was occupied by Jordan until 1967, and which the Palestinians claim to be theirs in any future arrangement. Sources in the PM's office explained that it is clear that Israel would never surrender Gilo to the Palestinians, so why not build there? Also, that it was already proved that not building in the settlements is in itself not enough of an incentive to bring the Palestinians to the negotiating table, judging by the freeze in 2010 and the negative Palestinian reaction. Simple? Not really.

If it is so clear that Gilo would stay part of united Jerusalem under Israeli control, what's the rush for? There are already 60,000 people living in this prosperous neighborhood. Few thousands more will make no difference, the problem is that the diplomatic damage to Israel is significant. The US and the Europeans sharply rebuked the Netanyahu Government decision, and Chancellor Merkel, perhaps Israel's best friend in Europe told Netanyahu that his decision casts doubts on Israel's commitment to peace talks. What Netanyahu did was so predictable and so unnecessary. All the more so if we bear in mind that President Obama did not reiterate his demand for freeze on building in the settlements in his UN speech, and also the Quartet did not include this as a condition for the resumption of the Israeli- Palestinian talks. Surely, Jerusalem is not a settlement, but Netanyahu needs to convince the Palestinians and Israel's friends in the world about his intentions, instead it seems that he prefers to resort to what's easier and more convenient to him, that is to please his coalition partners.

Let's move on to the Palestinians. They are still engaged in celebrations, but over what exactly? There is no evidence that they are closer now than before to mobilize 9 members in the security council, something that will force the US to veto their application. They announce that they earned the support of Nigeria and Gabon, but no official confirmation from these two African nations. The Palestinian press continues to hail the almost unanimous public opinion support which they enjoy in the world, however this claim is more a wishful thinking that irrefutable reality. For years, the Palestinians claim to have the upper hand in the PR battle with Israel but scoring PR points while important, falls short of achieving their political goals.

It is interesting to note, that the Palestinians and the battalions of their left-wing supporters in the media castigate President Obama for his alleged pro-Israel speech, arguing it was purely motivated by his domestic agenda, i.e his search for votes in 2012. Strange argument by those who talk so much about the importance of public opinion ,but ignore the well-documented fact, that American public opinion is by far pro-Israel.

The Palestinian leadership goes beyond the propaganda battle and makes demands that have not been heard for years, for example opening up the economic agreements with Israel, which were part of the Oslo Accords. The Palestinians should be aware of the fact that such a demand is a source of concern in Israel which is also subjected to threats from Egypt to open the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty. What about the fact usually recognized in international relations that treaties ought to be kept and respected?

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the Palestinian narrative these days is the not-so-veiled threat that if diplomatic progress was not achieved, clearly on Palestinian terms, violence will erupt which will push the situation back to the bloody days of the second Intifada. Abbas himself said on more than one occasion, that this Intifada was calamitous to the Palestinian people, so what good can come from such unhelpful voices?

It seems that both sides need to climb down from the high tree, and get back to the world of political realism, in which PR battles are just what they are and no more. Logical, isn't it? But then logic takes backseat so many times in the annals of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.