Does Israel really want peace?

If Israel is serious about peace it would have extended the settlement construction moratorium. Instead it coldly snipped the brake cables on this haggling train wreck leaving it up to everyone else to prevent the derailment, while it sniggers all the way to the digger. 

Perhaps it is time to really consider that Israel does not want peace with the Palestinians, and once again the world is being toyed with. After all Prime Minister Netanyahu has already been caught out once boasting of destroying the Oslo accords with his own hands.

As President Obama sought broad support from the United Nations for his Middle-East peace plan, he won huge applause when he said plainly that by making this current peace effort work, next year’s UN AGM would welcome an “independent, sovereign state of Palestine, living in peace with Israel”.

No-one from the Israeli delegation was in the chamber to hear their country’s greatest single benefactor in terms of money, arms and deflections of international hostility.

It was a Jewish holiday, but surely someone could have turned up for the relatively short speech, just to make sure when the cameras panned those in attendance it didn’t look like Israel had boycotted Obama, and the leadership had a first hand account.

There were no ‘holiday’ signs on the empty seats and it looked bad. More strangely, Prime Minister Netanyahu didn’t even come to the UN this year, despite the platform it would have given him from which to show the world he is serious this time. Perhaps the other coincidence – that of the meeting taking place as the partial moratorium on settlement construction ended – was more of a reason to stay away.  He certainly avoided any face to face pleas and then condemnation of world leaders for his refusal to extend the construction moratorium in the interests of keeping the peace talks going.

It is difficult to imagine what he would have said in defence of his actions had he taken his turn with the talkie-stick.

It is little wonder Israel has an image problem, but perhaps scarier still is Sarkozy’s decision to inject himself into the play as the potential broker-in-chief. Sarko sure has an eye for the main stage.

Basically the world is sick and tired of the seemingly endless rounds of peace talks and negotiations, walk-outs and disasters that constitute the train wreck of Middle East Peace. But the costs of the status quo remaining as such are too high. A moral world can not walk away from poverty, humiliation and despair of Palestinians, nor the relatively limited risk of danger for some Jews within rocket range of Gaza.

However Time magazine recently took a closer look at a growing phenomenon beginning to surface in academic and popular media – that life is pretty good for most Israelis, many of whom are feeling prosperous and steadily disengaged from the whole peace process.  Tel Aviv is buzzing financially, its famous café lifestyle is picture-postcard stuff, the beaches are great, real estate prices are up, and Palestinians are seen as more of a nuisance than strategic threat.

Couple this with the Jews only suburbs – often built on appropriated Palestinian land but not available to Arab tenants – and the Jews-only highways which facilitate direct routes to and from the West Bank, while a ‘security’ fence shutters out Palestinian life and it all begs the question of why bother tipping up a fairly acceptable status-quo.

Netanyahu has tremendous pressure from his right-wing coalition, which features prominently politicians who have been as extreme as calling for all Palestinians to be driven from the Jewish state.  Many, including Netanyahu, are on record declaring they will never tolerate division of Jerusalem. That sets an automatic precondition on any talks, as the Palestinians have called for East Jerusalem to be the capital of their eventual sovereign state.

Of course Palestinians having a sovereign state is also a no-no from Netanyahu’s point of view because he insists they can’t be militarized and must be controlled by Israel’s defence forces - not that that fits the definition of ‘sovereign’ acceptable to other nations, including Israel.

And the list goes on…and the pressure Netanyahu is under grows as he knows his coalition could easily implode, particularly if the ultra-Zionists are backed by a mood on the street that prefers to get on with its new domestic reality, warts and all.

Palestinian President Abbas is also under great pressure now settlement construction has resumed. Not massive construction at this stage it is true, but the deliberate flaunting of the issue by settlers bussed in for celebrations beneath blue and white balloons and amidst huge earthmoving machinery when the ‘freeze’ expired, makes Abbas’ job nigh on impossible.

To his credit he did not storm off on the stroke of midnight, but he now needs to consult with the Arab League to find a credible formula for explaining to Palestinians and Arabs in general that talks can continue despite Israelis eating up the very land that is under negotiation.

It is such land that is at the core of this boondoggle and that is why the settlements issue is so touchy.

Walking out of the talks will not solve anything, but if talks are again a tool for keeping everything ticking along and so allowing more and more land to be grabbed, eventually there will be nothing left to talk about. The ‘facts on the ground’ will be that the greater landmass of Israel can no longer be rationally divided into two states. Two viable states that is. Not a very rich one with water, transport, agriculture, manufacturing, exports and all the rest, that ‘suffers’ an impoverished neighbouring cot case.

By refusing to extend the settlement moratorium, which was incomplete anyway, Netanyahu has sucked the oxygen out of the peace-talks, and made an incredibly perilous process even more so.

It is no secret he doesn’t like Obama – and the feelings are likely mutual – but Obama is not the disaster for Israel he is so consistently painted by hardline Jewish Zionists and their American Christian Zionist counterparts..

Obama is the first American president to get off his tush at the beginning of his term so he can have a fair chance of achieving peace that is more than a band-aid hastily applied during the dying days of an administration, only to fall off in short order. Sure he’s already got his Nobel, so he’s trying to earn it. Politically he too has much on the line.

It remains to be hoped that Netanyahu actually wants peace because that is not the impression he is again giving to the world through actions...not just words.

He has categorically failed his one tangible but also highly symbolic opportunity. There will be few opportunities, if any, remaining if he does not play his part in dragging this round of talks out of the danger zone.