Analysis: Diplomatic theater, not diplomacy (JERUSALEM POST) By HERB KEINON 04/17/12)
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When Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu meets Palestinian Authority
Prime Minister Salam Fayyad on Tuesday for the first time ever,
diplomatic theater – rather than true diplomacy – will be on display.
True diplomacy would be if PA President Mahmoud Abbas would meet
Netanyahu himself and give him a letter stating the Palestinian
Israel could then respond a week later with Netanyahu going to Abbas
and presenting him with a letter spelling out Israel’s positions.
Those two letters could then form the starting positions from which
the two sides would start, and the goal of the negotiations would be
to narrow the gaps – such is diplomacy.
Diplomatic theater, however, is when one side presents a letter
laying out preconditions that the other side has rejected a thousand
times in the past, knowing full well that they will reject them again
this time as well. That is not diplomacy, but rather diplomacy as
The various drafts that have emerged of Abbas’s much discussed letter
to Netanyahu indicated that the document – whether worded
antagonistically or toned down a bit – will be little more than an
The Palestinians will lay down their narrative, and then say that
they will enter negotiations only if Israel stops all settlement
construction, accepts the pre-1967 lines as the baseline of talks,
and frees Palestinian prisoners jailed before the signing of the Oslo
If Israel does not accept those conditions, the letter is expected to
say, then – depending on which draft of the letter will be the one
ultimately handed over – the PA will go back to the UN seeking
unilateral statehood recognition, or throw all responsibilities in
the West Bank back on Israel, or dissolve itself. This does not
represent the opening position of negotiations, but rather an
either/or proposition. Either accept the terms – terms the
Palestinians have set out for months and which Israel has rejected –
or drastic steps will be taken.
The question that arises, however, is why go through the motion of
presenting a letter. If the Palestinians are essentially going to say
the same thing in their letter that they have said for the last three
years in avoiding negotiations with Netanyahu, then why bother with
the whole letter business in the first place?
The answer is simple: Theatrical effect.
Since the PA’s gambit for unilateral statehood recognition failed at
the UN in September, two things have happened: the Palestinians have
fallen off the world’s radar screen, replaced by Syria and Iran; and
they have been under pressure to enter negotiations. The pressure has
not only come from the US, but also from the EU and the Quartet.
Indeed, the Quartet just last week called for a return to
What the Palestinians need to do is both get back on the world’s
agenda and demonstrate to the international community that they
really do want to negotiate, but that it is Israel and its settlement
construction that is holding up the process. With the Fayyad meeting
the Palestinians hope to both regain some of the world’s lost
attention and also say, “Look, we went that extra step, we were even
willing to meet Netanyahu and deliver him a letter, but he still
refuses to negotiate.”
Blame him, not us is the theme the Palestinians hope the world will
take away from Tuesday’s letter-giving exercise. The letter is a prop
in this show.
Only fools, however, underestimate the importance of props. And
Netanyahu, who routinely uses all kinds of props during his speeches
to grab and keep attention, is no fool.
This is a prime minister who understands props. For instance at a
press conference earlier this month to mark three years of his
government, he drew a tree to grab attention – a prop. At his AIPAC
speech in Washington last month he waved an exchange of letters from
the World Jewish Congress to the US War Department during the
Holocaust – a prop. And at the UN in 2010 he unfurled the original
blueprints of Auschwitz to blast the UN for having invited Iranian
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak – another prop.
Netanyahu does not intend to be out-propped by the PA, and has
already made clear that within days of receiving Abbas’s letter, he
will write one himself to the Palestinian leader. He will not leave
the Palestinian letter unanswered; he will not leave that field of
play wide open for the Palestinians.
But after the dust has cleared from both missives, the sides at the
end of the month will probably be pretty much at the same place that
they are today: stalemated, with Abbas again waiting either for
Netanyahu to fall (unlikely), or for US President Barack Obama to
feel sufficiently empowered if he wins the elections in November to
force Israel’s hand. In the meantime, Abbas will likely again try his
hand at the UN and in various international forums, because even if
the script is well worn and tired, somehow the diplomatic show must
go on. (© 1995-2011, The Jerusalem Post 04/17/12)
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