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More Mid-East Truth From My Friend and Teacher, Barry Rubin*

In 1994, Israel asserted, and the PLO accepted, that construction would continue on existing Jewish settlements. For the next 15 years, negotiations were never stopped by that building.

In January 2009, the Palestinian Authority (PA) stopped negotiations because Hamas attacked Israel from the Gaza Strip and Israel defended itself. Of course, Hamas is also the PA’s enemy and the PA would be delighted if Israel destroyed that group. But for public relations’ purposes, the PA had to pretend inter-Palestinian solidarity.

Then came President Barack Obama who demanded a stop to all construction on settlements in 2009. Israel finally complied but announced that it would keep building in east Jerusalem. The United States accepted that arrangement and even highly praised Israel’s policy as a major concession.

But the PA refused to return to negotiations. Why, because the construction offended it? No, because the PA’s radical forces don’t want to make a peace deal because they believe they can win total victory and destroy Israel. The more moderate forces are too weak to make a deal because of Hamas and their own radicals, though they also have some problems with mutual compromise.

In September 2009, Obama announced that within two months there would be full and final peace negotiations in Washington. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said “yes”: PA leader Mahmoud Abbas said “no.”

No Western media outlet said that the PA refusal to negotiate for-as of today-about 15 months shows that the PA doesn’t want peace. Yet they had no hesitation about saying that Israel doesn’t want peace (or at least maybe doesn’t) because Israel announced the building of apartments on the basis of a policy it has followed for 16 years, without serious complaint for most of that time.

Abbas seized on the opportunity to declare that he wasn’t going to negotiate. Is he indignant? Upset? Does he feel betrayed? No, he’s delighted to have an excuse to do what he wants to do anyway: Not negotiate with Israel!

Just like the famous scene in the film Casablanca when the police inspector, Renault, who regularly gambles at Rick’s Place decided to shut down the nightclub:

Rick: How can you close me down? On what grounds?
Renault: “I am shocked shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!”
The croupier comes out of the gambling room and up to Renault. He hands him a roll of bills. Croupier: “Your winnings, sir.”
Renault: “Oh thank you very much. [He turns to the crowd] Everybody out at once!”

And so he gets to close down talks, keep his winnings, and blame it on Israel. While Abbas and the PA don’t agree with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on much, they do agree on one point: They claim that the West is abandoning Israel so why should they not just wait for it either to be destroyed (in Ahmadinejad’s case) or until the West gives the Palestinians a state on a silver platter with no concessions on their part (Abbas’s case).

Just as Obama killed the chance for negotiations with his demand for a full freeze, he and Vice-President Joe Biden may have done so again for indirect talks. But isn’t it Israel’s fault in the latter case for a stupid bureaucratic case of bad timing? Absolutely, yes. Yet the U.S. handling of the issue turned an annoying problem into an even worse problem for itself.

[Note: U.S. officials are claiming that talks will still take place, saying that reports of Abbas walking out are untrue. I don’t believe this but if so I will correct this article accordingly.]

Even those in the West who mistrust or hate Israel, or at least the current government, have created a monumental paradox for themselves. They say (wrongly, I should point out) that Israel (or Netanyahu) doesn’t want to negotiate or make a deal. If so, however, why are they “punishing” Israel by letting negotiations be killed? One of the many knots one gets into if there’s no understanding of Middle East politics and realities.

*Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books, go to http://www.gloria-center.org.

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