It would be hard to find a more mocked beginning to yet another peace process between Israelis and Palestinians. Indeed, the naysayers have it right when they say that Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has no courage, is absurdly absolutist in his demands and is more afraid of compromise than most Israelis.
Indeed, Abbas — whose tenure shows he has forgotten something called a democratic election — recently declared that no Israeli Jews could remain in a future Palestinian state and that all Jewish settlement building on lands Israel captured in its pre-emptive 1967 Six-Day War (including East Jerusalem) are illegal.
Yet, the peace talks will go on. And if history matters — and it acutely does — they will collapse only when non-compromising Palestinian demands make it impossible to go forward.
Opponents of this new phase of dialogue rightly point to the world’s obsession with pushing Israel into making concessions in a Middle East rife with serious conflict and bad results of previous compromise.
There are, of course, a few contenders for the world’s attention. Indeed, the once-promising Arab spring is now a day of dark clouds. Syria remains ensconced in a civil war with anti-Western Islamic radicals loosely allied with the chief rebel faction. Lebanon’s government is all but formally in the Syrian conflict, as its anti-Israel Hezbollah helps its benefactor, Syria’s Assad regime.
Meanwhile, Egypt has returned to military dictatorship. For the moment its generals are silent on Israel as they try to stabilize their country. But after they do, one can envision anti-Israel policies meant to distract Muslim Brotherhood backers. Jordan remains quiet for now but is perennially on the verge of revolt against its minority Bedouin leadership in favor of an alliance between anti-monarchists and Palestinian refugees.
Past compromise? Hamas anyone? And let us not forget the Iranians, whose fingerprints stain the region.
So as Israel looks around and sees trouble with likely more to come, why enter talks to give back land?
It’s for the same reason that Jewish leaders have held “accommodationist” talks with the country’s Arab residents since the early 1920s: It’s smart politics.
Rhetoric has its place for domestic consumption, but at day’s end, it’s about the realpolitik of pleasing the Jewish population’s greatest benefactor — the United States, which wants in part to pacify Arabs with peace talks to help keep oil prices stable, as well as to satisfy European allies, who on the whole are far more pro-Arab than Washington.
So Israel will stay in these talks, which will create periodic political trouble for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. But he will not back out. He’ll leave that up to Abbas, for whom the odds favor those awaiting his lack of courage at critical moments.
The only question now is how dangerous a response his recalcitrance will trigger.
Neil Rubin is the former senior editor of the Baltimore Jewish Times. He is teaching a course on the history of Zionism from Biblical times until 1948 at Baltimore Hebrew Institute at Towson University.