Open Zion

08.30.13

Israeli Politicians Forbidden to Attend Rosh Hashanah Event With Abbas

Now here’s a head-scratcher.

There’s a lot of talk about Yair Lapid believing that Israel’s position in peace negotiations will be weakened if members of his party attend a Rosh Hashanah event with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. As such, even though five Yesh Atid parliamentarians had already RSVP’ed “yes” to Abbas’s little do, Lapid has instructed them to make their apologies. A spokeswoman with Yesh Atid explained the Finance Minister’s decision thus:

When there are direct negotiations between the two sides, we don’t think it is right for coalition MKs to bypass the official talks. We should let the diplomatic process continue via acceptable procedures.

But here’s the thing: Three members of Yesh Atid actually met with Palestinian Authority officials just two weeks ago, and it wasn’t at a party. Indeed, Maariv reported on August 18 that MK Yifat Kariv and two other people from Yesh Atid met with PA officials in Budapest in order to (in Kariv’s words) “support the peace process”:

The sooner we arrive at a two-state solution, the better. These discussions with the Palestinians give me the sense that there’s someone to talk to and something to talk about, and as such, all declarations about construction in the territories or support for the idea of a single state between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River only do damage. The government must arrive at responsible, courageous decisions.

The Maariv report goes on to say that the Israeli and Palestinian participants agreed to prepare a joint declaration of parliamentary support for the peace process; to organize delegations of Israeli officials to Ramallah (the seat of the Palestinian government); and to put political pressure on the leaders of both sides to arrive at an agreement. Furthermore, reporter Arik Bender writes, both sides expressed their support for the draft accord known as the Geneva Accord (or Geneva Initiative), agreeing that the parameters of any future resolution are already well-known and enjoy the support of the majority of both peoples.

So, if I understand correctly, a meeting between Fatah officials, Palestinian legislators, and coalition MKs at which all agree on the outline of a future peace deal—a draft agreement known to be based on the 1967 lines and a shared Jerusalem—it’s not an end-run around official talks. Raising a toast at a holiday gathering, on the other hand? You betcha.

I’ve long wondered what some of the folks in Lapid’s party are doing there. Some of the most prominent members of Yesh Atid are unequivocal supporters of a two-state peace and all that such a peace will entail. Their boss, on the other hand, has rejected the idea of cutting back on settlements, says things like “if the Palestinians realize they won’t have a state unless they give up on Jerusalem, they’ll back down from that demand,” and not long ago declared that Abbas (who has actively supported a two-state peace since 1977) is “still not psychologically ready for an agreement with Israel, either partial or full.”

I wonder if maybe the trip to Budapest was organized without Lapid’s knowledge, or if he later came to regret allowing it to happen. Because to be perfectly frank, he’s absolutely right that allowing his folks to go to Abbas’s holiday event will undermine the government’s position.

He’s right because, as MK Kariv demonstrates, when people reach out to each other, their relationship changes. When people get together in an atmosphere of conviviality, they’re likely to start working together. When enemies jointly struggle with tiny plates of hors d'oeuvres, they are less likely to see each other as enemies.

Yet the government in which Lapid serves appears tied to a notion of eternal enmity. To the extent that Prime Minister Netanyahu and his ministers (other than Justice Minister Tzipi Livni) are at all willing to go along with John Kerry’s negotiation efforts, all signs indicate that it’s because the process of talks serves Israel in the international arena. Actually achieving an end to the conflict, on the other hand (an outcome that will require something very like what the Geneva Initiative proposes), doesn’t seem to hold much appeal.

How do we know that an actual resolution doesn’t hold much appeal for the Netanyahu government? Because, among many other things, it recently announced plans for more than 3000 settlement housing units, and members of the coalition keep saying things like: "There are no two states west of the Jordan River, and there won’t be two states. Even if there are negotiations taking place—this is not on the agenda."

Now, these folks may be telling themselves and their followers that the conflict can be ended without two states, but they’re either lying or fools (or both. One must never preclude the possibility of both).

I’m on record as thinking that Yair Lapid is a fool (or possibly the product of a sub-par education, or maybe just doesn’t read very much). I also think he’s an opportunist more interested in his own political fortunes than the needs of any Israelis he’s supposed to be serving.

However, given his government’s clear position of making conflict resolution near-impossible to achieve, Lapid is absolutely right. Getting together with the Palestinian president would be one of those tiny, million steps that might serve to bring peace just a little bit closer, thus undermining Israel’s negotiating position.

Just ask Yifat Kariv.