Defense Minister Ehud Barak has joined the chorus of foreign and Israeli politicians and media pushing Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to launch a fresh initiative to end the stalemate in the peace process with the Palestinians. Monday, March 7, Barak told a radio interviewer that in his view Palestinian independence and a peace accord would not run counter to Israel's primary security interests and urged him to publish a new peace plan right now.
Barak was responding to a rare policy statement from the prime minister Sunday, March 6, at a joint news conference with visiting Chilean President Sebastian Pinera, whose government recognized a Palestinian state.
"We are willing to sit down and negotiate peace," said Netanyahu, "but the Palestinians have found a variety of excuses not to do so." He accused them of avoiding talks in the hope of persuading the international community to impose a solution on Israel. "Basically, they say, we don't have to negotiate, we can sit back, we can teach our children to idolize mass killers – they named a public square in Ramallah for a terrorist who murdered 400 innocent Israelis; they can do that and get away with it."
Netanyahu went on to list five gestures had made in the last year for advancing the peace process, including a 10-month freeze of settlement construction and the removal of numerous checkpoints.
Barak urged the prime minister not to wait to unveil his new peace program until late May when he has been invited to address both US Houses of Congress, but to go public now.
At the same time, debkafile's analysts offer four reasons why it is a bad idea to publish any peace plan at this time:
1. The Palestinians have repeatedly rejected any plan incorporating a state within provisional borders ever since it was first offered in mid-2010. They will do so again. But deepening the impasse now has more dangerous connotations than before because the Arab world and Middle East has since been caught up in a popular revolution against Arab rulers whose results are completely unpredictable.
2. The Palestinian Authority leaders Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad fit the bill as conservative, unelected targets for popular revolts. For them, engaging Israel in diplomacy necessitating concessions on both sides must be a zero option.
The Arab uprisings have so far brought military juntas to power and a rise in the fortunes of the Muslim Brotherhood and other radical Muslim movements, including the Palestinian Hamas, in Egypt and Tunisia. Both Palestinian leaders were badly hurt by the fall of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, according to every intelligence estimate. It is hard to calculate how much more damage they would suffer by the spread of the revolt to Saudi Arabia and Jordan and the fall of other conservative Arab rulers. For Abbas and Fayyad, to start dealing with Israel in the middle of this whirlwind would only stir up a hornets' nest of Palestinian radical opposition and could therefore prove suicidal – especially if it ends in fiasco.
And if somehow the two sides are brought to the table, can any potential Israeli negotiators guess what kind of Palestinian state will be under discussion in three months? Or, under what rule? Can anyone?
3. The turbulence may well sweep away every known Arab ruler, whether the incumbents or the leaders of the opposition groups which oust them. Jerusalem cannot know where it will all end, or even if, when the process exhausts itself, the Obama administration will still want to sponsor Israel-Palestinian peace diplomacy.
At this highly incendiary and volatile moment in Middle East history, debkafile's Washington source report that the US president and his advisers are far from eager see the Israeli prime minister address Congress as soon as May. They too have no crystal ball to tell them how the Arab revolt will have evolved by the time Netanyahu rises to speak on Capitol Hill.
4. Thus far, Israel has not been a factor in the Arab uprisings. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been ignored in the slogans raised by the rebel movements of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain and Yemen in any part of their campaigns. This is partly because Israeli leaders for the most part sensibly kept held their silence on the Arab turmoil. However, if the Israeli prime minister puts it back onto front stage, protest leaders, and not only Palestinians, might well seize on the Jewish state and use it for a fresh call to arms to bring the masses out on the streets; beleaguered Arab rulers may revive their anti-Israel hate campaigns as useful propaganda.
For all those reasons, Israeli officials would be well advised to continue to keep their heads down at this uncertain time and until some stability is in sight. Netanyahu needs to keep the pressure coming at him from all sides at bay.