Kenneth Bandler

Furthermore, Abbas now insists that Israel begin negotiations from Olmert’s offer. Maybe the Palestinian leadership has a different concept for negotiations, but typically one should not expect to automatically go back to previously rejected terms.

Abbas – and his Arab state allies – must stop complaining and return to direct interaction with Netanyahu to find solutions. Of course, that presumes Abbas and company truly want to realize an independent Palestinian state, living in peace and security alongside Israel. There is reason for doubt. As more time passes, Abbas, his Fatah Party and the Arab League are confirming that they are willing accomplices in creating blockages in the peace process.

Second, Israel’s ten-month moratorium on new construction in the West Bank also ends in September. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decision last November to impose the freeze was unprecedented. This was a gesture, in part, to President Obama, who had made the settlements issue a centerpiece of his Middle East policy, but also, and more importantly, a good-faith gesture to Abbas, yet another Israeli effort to convince the PA President to resume direct talks.

Some have asserted that the freeze is not full. True, the Israeli government moratorium does allow for completion of about 3,000 housing units in existing communities that were started before November 26, 2009. And, it never included Jerusalem. Yet, significantly, for the first time in history, there has been zero new settlement construction, according to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics.

Extending the moratorium may be wise for Israel, but Netanyahu’s decision no doubt will be influenced, in part, by what Abbas does or doesn’t do. Continuing to boycott direct talks will not be helpful.

Third, world leaders will gather in New York in September for the UN General Assembly. One of the standard features of this annual gathering is adoption by the world body of a series of resolutions bashing Israel. The coincidence of impasses in peace talks and the settlements freeze will likely add fresh fodder to the UN debates. Again, Abbas, as well as other Arab leaders who truly seek peace with Israel, could use the UN podium to speak out in a more positive and encouraging manner about the future of their region, to offer visions for peace with Israel.

All of this will test the will and wisdom of the Obama administration’s foreign-policy team. Perhaps President Obama himself may insist on meeting at the UN with Abbas and Netanyahu together, to jump-start the long delayed direct Israeli-Palestinian talks. That could help reset the navigational tools on the Abbas ship to sail more purposefully towards a peaceful destination.


Kenneth Bandler

Kenneth Bandler is the American Jewish Committee’s Director of Communications.