The three main players in the Middle East peace process spent this week engaged in an acerbic blame game, putting the onus on each other for the future of negotiations.
Israel’s Prime Minister travelled to the United States, where he met with the President. But while he was in flight, a news agency published an interview in which Barack Obama implied that he considers Benjamin Netanyahu to be the obstacle holding up the process.
Borrowing from the rabbinic sage Hillel, Obama told Bloomberg that his message to Netanyahu is: “If not now, when? And if not you, Mr Prime Minister, then who? How does this get resolved?”
He went on to say: “I believe that Bibi is strong enough that if he decided this was the right thing to do for Israel, that he could do it. If he does not believe that a peace deal with the Palestinians is the right thing to do for Israel, then he needs to articulate an alternative approach. And as I said before, it’s hard to come up with one that’s plausible.”
When Netanyahu arrived in the US, his message was simple – it’s not him, but the Palestinians who are holding things up. “The tango in the Middle East needs at least three,” he remarked. “For years there have been two, Israel and the US. Now it needs to be seen if the Palestinians are also present.”
He hoisted high his question mark over Palestinian sincerity when standing with Obama, ahead of their meeting. He listed Israeli concessions from the two decades since the Oslo process began, including the withdrawal from Gaza and some West Bank settlements, and the release of terrorists from prisons. “And when you look at what we got in return, it’s been scores of suicide bombings, thousands of rockets on our cities fired from the areas we vacated, and just incessant Palestinian incitement against Israel,” he claimed.” So Israel has been doing its part, and I regret to say that the Palestinians haven’t.”
He insisted that Israelis are serious about wanting peace. He followed this declaration with a sarcastic comment about the Palestinian refusal to recognise Israel as a Jewish state. “So the Palestinians expect us to recognise a Palestinian state for the Palestinian people, a nation state for the Palestinian people,” he said. “ I think it’s about time they recognise a nation state for the Jewish people. We’ve only been there for 4000 years.”
On Tuesday, when Netanyahu spoke to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, he referred again to this demand on the Palestinians. “President [Mahmoud] Abbas, recognise the Jewish state,” Netanyahu declared. “In doing so you will tell your people that, though we have a territorial dispute, Israel’s right to exist is beyond dispute … So recognise the Jewish state. No excuses, no delays, it’s time.” He also called for Abbas to tell Palestinians to end the “fantasy of flooding Israel with refugees.”
While Obama pointed his finger at Netanyahu and Netanyahu pointed his at the Palestinians, Abbas kicked the ball back into the Israeli court. He said that the survival of talks after the April deadline expires will be in Israeli hands, as he will demand a settlement freeze to carry on talking.