Sunday, October 19, 2014

Bibi Tries and Fails To Bypass the Palestinians

Bibi Tries and Fails To Bypass the Palestinians
by J.J. Goldberg

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s big idea for a regional partnership with moderate Arab states to confront violent extremism — while leaving the Palestinian conflict on the back burner — got doused with a big bucket of cold water in mid-October.Make that two buckets. One was from his most important ally in the Arab world, Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi. The other was from his largest coalition partner, the centrist Yesh Atid party.Sissi welcomed delegates to an October 12 international conference in Cairo on rebuilding Gaza — to which Israel was pointedly not invited — with a speech that was directed as much to the Israeli public as to the delegates. His message: You can’t ignore the Palestinian problem. It will only get worse. The only way to ease tensions, avoid escalating Palestinian-Israeli violence and achieve partnership with the moderate Arab states is through Palestinian independence, via the Arab Peace Initiative.Related Yesh Atid’s message was simpler and more direct: If Netanyahu doesn’t find a way to renew talks with the Palestinian Authority and move toward a permanent two-state peace pact, Yesh Atid will leave the coalition, topple the government and force new elections.“If Netanyahu doesn’t go that way, Yesh Atid will pull out,” said party Knesset whip Ofer Shelah, party leader Yair Lapid’s closest political confidante, in a telephone interview.Shelah said his party was pressing for the convening of an international conference to shepherd Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, with the Arab Peace Initiative as a basis for the talks. The point of a conference is that the backing of moderate Arab states — principally Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia — can lend legitimacy on the Palestinian street to difficult concessions that the Palestinian leadership has trouble making on its own. At the same time, Arab states’ participation can drive home to the Israeli public the reality of regional acceptance as a product of a peace deal.

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