Sunday, November 29, 2009

Israeli Press: More on Bibi
Haggai Segal (translated from Makor Rishon with the author's permission)

A columnist in the Hebrew press writes: You may think there are no negotiations at present between the PA and Israel, but there are. You just have to know how to identify them, and when you do, you will see who is on the winning side.

The negotiations are in full swing. It has been years since they have been so energetically pursued, even in comparison to Olmert's period in office. True, the two sides don’t conduct face to face talks and there are no meetings held, but they are negotiating all the time. This is going on in the open for everyone to see. The minutes of the negotiations appear in all the media all the time. One just has to learn to identify them. Abu Mazen [PA head Mahmoud Abbas] and Netanyahu are talking to each other using the "Italian Neapolitan Method" i.e. they are using a method that characterizes bilateral talks between an inner city storeowner and a Mafia goon out to collect payments. Their body language speaks more clearly than all the official pronouncements in the media, King's English though they may be.

Side A says something in threatening tones, as if talking to himself. Side B obeys hastily, as if by chance, and that is how they engage in negotiations non- stop. Not a syllable is exchanged when the cash filled envelope is handed over, but everything is clear and understood.

To say it more clearly: The non official negotiations being carried on by Abu Mazen and Netanyahu started shortly after our elections. Abu Mazen announced from every possible podium in Ramallah that he refuses to sit down to speak to Netanyahu before there is a complete freeze in the settlements. In response, Netanyahu made it clear that he refuses to accept any preconditions and accepted them immediately. This was done without a cabinet meeting, without an official announcement of the building freeze, he simply saw to it that no plans for new buildings in Jewish areas of Judea and Samaria would be signed and authorized.

After that Abu Mazen made it clear to special envoy Mitchell that there is no difference in his mind between Yitzhar, Shilo [smaller individual settlements, ed.] and settlement blocs. So Netanyahu froze building in Ariel and area E1 of Maale Adumim [large cities with suburbs and industrial areas, ed.]. The same goes for Eastern Jerusalem.

The Palestinian Authority insisted that Netanyahu espouse the principle of two states for two peoples, and Netanyahu complied. His Bar Ilan speech was the result of these "negotiations", albeit somewhat indirect ones. Ramallah wanted to hear Netanyahu say "two states for two peoples" and they got what they wanted. The Prime Minister delivered the goods. Of course, we heard him say he wants an unarmed state, while the Palestinians want a regular state, but negotiations are just at the beginning stage. This is a process that lacks ceremonies, it is economical and compact, and it is also very successful—that is, from the Palestinian point of view.

To summarize: we are far from where we were when Netanyahu was sworn into office. This past summer and fall bore witness to a significant closing of the gap between Netanyahu and Abu Mazen's positions. Our Prime Minister earned his position of leadership by promising not to uproot any settlement ("That fact is cut and dried " he said to Channel 2 on the eve of the elections) but he already proclaimed in Washington that he is "willing to make extensive sacrifices for peace." That is synonymous with the Mofaz plan. Netanyahu also expressed his pride that no Israeli Government in the last 16 years reduced construction work in the settlements as much as his has. He also removed hundreds of roadblocks, more than any other government. Abu Mazen had only to demand something and Abu Mazen received his wish.

And, by the way, what did he give us in return? Absolutely nothing, nothing at all. As a means of pressuring Netanyahu, the adroit PA head announced that he is not running for reelection. Israel will probably besides itself until he changes his mind, if he does, and in order to convince him will agree to more of his demands. So it goes. The much touted "when they [the PA] give, they will get" slogan of Netanyahu's first term in office has turned into "they will get, they will continue getting". And in the meantime, there is a new way of talking to our enemy. He just has to look askance or stamp his feet a bit, and we are there asking what we can do to please him.

"Tell him that he will get everything he wants" said famous Israeli comedian Gavri to his partner Shaike in a comedy act about how to honor the millionth immigrant from the former Soviet Union. "He knows that already" retorted Shaike laconically. Abu Mazen knows it as well.

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