The assumption is generally made that the negotiations are between equals. In cartoons, Netanyahu and Abbas appear to be of equal size. The American picture of two reasonable people talking it out between themselves presupposes two more or less equal partners.
But this whole picture is basically false. The proposed "negotiations" are between an almighty occupying power and an almost totally powerless occupied people. Between the wolf and the lamb.
(it's the old Israeli joke again: Can you keep a wolf and a lamb together? Of course you can, if you put in a new lamb every day.)
The Israeli army operates freely throughout the West Bank, including Ramallah. If Netanyahu so decides, Abbas may find himself tomorrow morning in an Israeli prison, together with the old people Netanyahu refuses to release.
Less drastically, the Israeli government can at any moment, at will, stop transfering the large sums of tax and customs money it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, as it has done several times already. This would immediately bring the PA to the brink of bankruptcy.
There are hundreds of ways, one more refined than the other, in which the occupation authorities and the occupation army can make life intolerable for individual Palestinians and their community as a whole.
What can the Palestinians do to put pressure on the Israeli government? Very little. There is the threat of a Third Intifada. It worries the army, but does not frighten it. The army's answer is more repression and bloodshed. Or another resolution of the UN General Assembly, elevating Palestine to the rank of a full member of the world organization. Netanyahu would be furious, but the actual damage would be limited.
ANY PRESSURE to start meaningful negotiations that would lead to a peace agreement in -- say -- a year must come from the President of the United States of America.
That is so obvious that it hardly needs mentioning.
This is the crux of the matter.
Kerry can bring cash, a lot of cash, to bribe the Palestinians, or whisper into their ears dire threats to frighten them into meeting Netanyahu in his imaginary tent -- it will mean next to nothing.
The only chance to start real negotiations is for Barack Obama to put his full weight behind the effort, to confront Congress and the hugely powerful pro-Israel lobby and dictate to both sides the American peace plan. We all know what it must look like -- a combination of the (Bill) Clinton outline and the pan-Arab peace initiative.
If John Kerry is unable to deliver this pressure, he should not even try. It really is an imposition to come here and shake things up when you have no means to impose a solution. Sheer impertinence.
Or, as you say in Hebrew, Chutzpah.
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