Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians are over, Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat announced earlier this week while on his way to Washington to discuss how to move forward.
Erekat reiterated Palestinian demands that Israel cease all settlement activity, including in east Jerusalem, before the Palestinian Authority would return to talks. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded by reiterating his offer to immediately hold talks on every contentious subject.
The Palestinians do not trust Netanyahu. Many Israelis do not trust him, either. As adamant as the Palestinians have been in calling for a settlement freeze, Netanyahu has been just as adamant in resisting U.S. pressure for such a move. All along the way Netanyahu has offered immediate and comprehensive talks, which the Palestinians continue to refuse.
The Palestinians should call his bluff.
If Netanyahu is sincere in his desire to reach a peace agreement, then a Palestinian acceptance of his offer will revive the peace process and lead to a deal – if the Palestinians are as equally sincere about reaching one.
If Netanyahu’s calls for renewed negotiations are meant as a distraction so that Israel can build within settlements undisturbed and create facts on the ground that would make a Palestinian state impossible, then that will come to light during renewed negotiations.
If that is the case – and we are not saying it is – the Palestinians will have won a diplomatic victory against Israel.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has perched himself on a high tree by continually demanding a total settlement freeze before negotiations, but he can climb down by telling his people that his goal is to call Bibi’s bluff and expose Israel’s duplicity. This would then increase international pressure on the Jewish state to make concessions to the Palestinians and further their goals of international recognition of a unilaterally declared Palestinian state.
The fear of international blame for the collapse of the talks and an imposed solution would theoretically pressure Israel to earnestly negotiate. And Hamas, which does not want another conflict with Israel now, has said it would honor a treaty if it is approved by national referendum.
The Palestinians are thus faced with either vindication or peace if they re-enter negotiations. That’s what most of us would call a no-lose situation.