A picture is indeed sometimes worth a thousand words. A photo of Secretary of State John Kerry disembarking from his plane in Tel Aviv showed chief US negotiator Martin Indyk walking along at his side with a grin on his face as if he had just heard a new Palestinian joke in the plane on the way over. It looked like Israel’s American legal team had arrived and just couldn’t wait for the first photo op with a glowering Benjamin Netanyahu. They may even have been chuckling over what might be the funniest line ever uttered by an Israeli prime minister, Netanyahu greeting their arrival by claiming that "There’s growing doubt in Israel that the Palestinians are committed to peace. In the six months since the start of peace negotiations, the Palestinian authority continues its unabated incitement against the State of Israel."
Netanyahu, who insists that the Palestinians declare Israel to be a Jewish State as a precondition for further talks and that Israel be able to maintain a permanent military occupation of the Jordan River valley, certainly knows all about "unabated incitement." And he has plenty of friends hanging on his every pronouncement. US Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham were already in Israel when Kerry arrived, consulting with the Israeli government and coming to the conclusion that there are serious concerns about any possible peace agreement with the Palestinians, nearly all relating to "Israel’s security." More fool I to think that Graham and McCain were elected to represent the people of South Carolina and Arizona, but as some have observed politics is the art of the impossible.
As usual official Washington is lining up on the side of the Israelis while pretending to be an "honest broker," a deception that fools no one but the editorial staffs on the Washington Post and New York Times. There are, of course, a number of different ways to look at the current round of the Middle East Peace talks, possibly the longest continuous entertainment spectacular on the planet since Johnny Carson retired after 30 seasons on The Tonight Show. One might well wonder why it has been so difficult to create a Palestinian State of some kind, a development that would seem to be in nearly everyone’s interest and which would also impact on many related issues, to include international terrorism, instability in Lebanon and Syria, Iran, and even Arab democracy. The reason is, of course, simple, involving Israeli unwillingness to permit such a state to come into existence coupled with the United States role as an enabler of Israel. So the peace process spins on and on.
Scott McConnell has hit the nail on the head, recently describing in some detail how Israel has never wanted a sovereign Palestinian state in the neighborhood even though it persists in claiming that it does. The United States, which has always known that the Israelis are liars, nevertheless goes along with the deception for fear of offending the powerful Israel Lobby. McConnell observes that "Since there is no reason to think that Bibi Netanyahu is more inclined to allow the Palestinians a viable state than Barak was, there really is little chance that Kerry’s mission will succeed—unless of course the Palestinian leadership has been sufficiently corrupted and bribed to sell out legitimate Palestinian aspirations."
The point he is making is that the Palestinians have to a large extent been sold out by their own corrupt leadership, which has repeatedly failed to take steps that would assert their national rights. Israeli politician Abba Eban once said that the Palestinians never "miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity" but it is much more than that. Mahmoud Abbas is the perfect Palestinians leader from the point of view of Israel and the United States – corrupt , malleable, and, at the end of the day, always ready to do what Tel Aviv and Washington want while Benjamin Netanyahu proceeds with his settlement building and acquisition of what is left of the West Bank.
The 2006 Palestinian elections illustrate what has gone wrong. The US supported free elections but then changed its mind when Hamas won, embracing the Israeli position that Hamas was a terrorist organization. All of which required a reset on the relationship with the PLO, somehow turning it into the acceptable Palestinian government vis-à-vis Hamas. To do so, of course, ignored the massive corruption of the PLO, which was well known to the Palestinian people and also to just about anyone else who cared to inquire, a major reason why the voters turned against it and voted for Hamas.
Yassir Arafat may have succeeded in placing Palestinian identity and statehood on the international agenda but he also stole billions of dollars that were being given by donors to help the Palestinian people. It has been frequently claimed that Mahmoud Abbas, currently president of Palestine and chairman of the PLO, has continued that tradition, possibly helping himself to many millions more. Many of Abbas’s critics, including members of congress and convicted felon Elliot Abrams, are politically motivated, attempting to demonstrate that Israel has no legitimate negotiating partner among the Palestinians. They undeniably conveniently ignore the considerable level of corruption in Tel Aviv but their own lack of credibility does not in any way make the Palestinian corruption problem go away.
And the corruption has consequences. The price Abbas has paid for being able to help himself and his two sons from the government coffers has been continued acquiescence in the charade being played out by a succession of American Secretaries of State and Benjamin Netanyahu, negotiations that are intended to go nowhere except in a direction desired by Israel. In the latest version featuring Israel as a Jewish State with all that implies, coupled with a continued military occupation and theft of both land and water, the Palestinians are little more than patsies, a player who is so powerless that he can safely be ignored.
As part of that game, Abbas has been careful not to push too hard and he has basically ceded to John Kerry his right to behave independently. He has backed down due to Washington’s threats and failed to energetically assert the Palestinian case for full recognition of statehood in the United Nations, has proven unwilling to utilize the mechanism of the International Criminal Court to condemn Israeli war crimes and other violations, and has avoided even following through on his own threats to dissolve his own government to end the pretense that he actually is a head of a sovereign state. Dissolving the Palestinian government, such as it is, would force the Israelis to resort to a return to a total occupation, which would be expensive, bad public relations, and a turn of events that is not in their interest. Under US pressure, Abbas has generally cooperated with even the most extreme Israeli security demands, including tolerating the arrest and incarceration of his own people without trial.
So when Netanyahu and his shills in the US Congress complain that Israel really cannot deal with the Palestinians because there is no legitimate negotiating partner, for once the Israelis and their friends from AIPAC are actually speaking the truth. Of course there is no one home in Ramallah precisely because that is the way Tel Aviv and Washington want it to be.