Jul 27 2009
“‘Moderate’ Palestinian Leader Refuses to Meet with Israelis.” [Excerpts]
Chances are you haven’t seen that headline--I made it up. But it refers to something that really happened…Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas told reporters in Ramallah that talks with the Netanyahu government are no-go until it accepts the two-state solution and freezes all construction in West Bank settlements.
That may seem strange, since Netanyahu has said he now accepts the two-state solution, both in a speech on June 14 and in a cabinet session on July 5. (That move did get wide publicity.) Netanyahu’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, has also spoken positively of a Palestinian state, and his defense minister, Ehud Barak, is a longtime dove who offered a Palestinian state to Yasser Arafat in 2000.
Abbas’s insistence on a total construction freeze also seems strange, since he held intensive talks with the previous government of Ehud Olmert, even as construction was continuing in larger settlements.
Indeed, Abbas’s “nay” came in response to Netanyahu’s call to him that same day to “make peace, both diplomatic and economic. There is no reason why we can’t meet anywhere in Israel.” Netanyahu also stressed the Palestinians’ “basic right to live in peace, security and prosperity” and the fact that his government has “made great efforts in recent weeks to ease their lives”—among other things, removing numerous West Bank roadblocks and improving conditions at the Israeli-Jordanian border.
Some say, of course, that Netanyahu has cleverly turned the tables on Abbas and put him in a box by stressing the demilitarization of the Palestinian state and the fact that Abbas’s “moderate” government refuses to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. It’s also said that Abbas is counting on the Obama administration to “deliver” Israel in any case and sees no point in resuming negotiations now. Abbas, competing for popularity with Hamas, may also not want to be perceived as “weak” by holding talks with what is still considered a “right-wing” government.
But those interpretations aside, the fact remains: the Israeli prime minister has called for negotiations, and the Palestinian president has responded with a flat-out no. If it was the reverse--“Netanyahu Refuses to Meet with Palestinians”--it would mean big news, a crisis in U.S.-Israeli relations. But portraying Netanyahu as conciliatory and Abbas as intransigent—even if this is what has actually happened—goes so against the media grain, and the dominant political conceptions, that the contrast gets downplayed and generally ignored.