(BEN SMITH-Politico).Israelis and Palestinians have yet to achieve any substantive progress in the nascent peace talks that resulted from President Barack Obama’s high-profile push for negotiations, but a subtle shift in the political balance between the two antagonists seems clear: Israel is now winning the blame game.
The blame game always proceeds on a parallel, subterranean track to actual negotiations, the cynical mirror of the process’s insistent optimism. Some prominent figures on both sides barely disguise their assumption that peace talks will fail, as they almost always do.
Even those who are committed to the prospect of peace and publicly optimistic about it are cautious enough to keep an eye on the possibility of failure, ready with a pointed finger if talks collapse so that the other side is left with what former Secretary of State James Baker once referred to as the “dead cat” of prospective blame.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has “managed to leave the dead cat at the doorstep of both the Obama Administration and [Palestinian Authority President] Mahmoud Abbas,” said Aaron David Miller, a former U.S. peace negotiator who is a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
Last summer, Israel owned the dead cat. Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made plain their view that Netanyahu’s failure to stop all settlement construction on the West Bank was the obstacle to resumed talks, and after an ill-timed construction announcement, Clinton’s office released details of the unusual 43-minute tongue-lashing she delivered to the Israeli.
Obama then brought Netanyahu and Abbas to the White House early this month with the exhortation to begin direct talks. Looming over the celebratory announcement that they would was the impending expiration of Israel’s moratorium on new settlement construction.
Now that the moratorium has expired, the Obama administration has completed a subtle tilt toward Israel’s point of view. The problem is no longer Israel’s actions: It’s the Palestinian insistence that one issue – settlements – be resolved before talks can begin.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is now feeling some of the heat reserved last year for Netanyahu, and facing the prospect that if he fulfills his promise to withdraw from talks, he will bear the full blame for their collapse.
“The onus is on the Palestinians not to walk away. That’s not fair but it’s the way it is,” said Hussein Ibish, a fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine, which backs the talks. “There are people on both sides who have no confidence [in the peace process] and so the name of the game is who gets blamed. Which is why the Palestinian can say a million times that they’ll walk out — but they can’t.”
The shift is the subject of quiet self-congratulations among hawkish Israelis and their American allies. After the difficult start of his relationship with Obama and his humiliation at the hands of Clinton’s, Netanyahu sought to give Obama one thing he wanted: An absolute promise to being peace talks.
Part of the blame game is the pretense that no such game exists, and officials on both sides said their sole focus is the talks themselves.
“It is not our mind that we want to avoid being blamed or not being blamed. What is of concern to us is to try to create the atmosphere conducive to real political discussions to put an end to the Israeli occupation,” said Areikat.
“No one’s taking any victory laps here –the victory is only if the talks continue,” said Oren