A “Death Bolt” to the Peace Process: Israel Reacts to Bibi’s Speech

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu returns to Israel having affirmed the ebullient support of the U.S. Congress and jousted bravely with President Obama — but in terms that analysts warn will only accelerate the Palestinian effort to render Washington irrelevant by taking their case to the United Nations instead. Everything about Bibi’s trip to Washington — the lecture to Obama at a White House photo op; the long list of pre-conditions to peace talks laid down between standing ovations in the House chamber — appeared calculated not to prevent the UN General Assembly from declaring a Palestinian state in September, but rather to hunker down with friends against what his defense minister calls a “diplomatic tsunami.”

“Negotiations that had a slim chance of being renewed before the visit,” Nahum Barnea writes in the Hebrew- language daily Yedioth Ahronoth, “now have no chance at all.”  The columnist sees additional fallout in “a Palestinian Authority and an Arab League that are more determined than in the past to reach a resolution in the UN General Aseembly on a state within the 1967 borders, which is a resolution that has quite dangerous consequences for Israel.”

Other Israeli pundits concurred, praising Netanyahu for his savvy handling of American pols eager to show solidarity with the Jewish state, but lamenting the strategic cost of ignoring the momentum gathering toward a UN vote that Palestinian leaders say can be forestalled only by a credible bid to resume peace talks.  “Netanyahu donned a silk glove and with the same hand injected a death shot into the convulsing peace process,” wrote Ben Caspit in Ma’ariv. “The carrot he offered was a baby carrot. The stick he offered was a baton.”

“September and the UN General Assembly are around the corner, and without a resumption of negotiations or another substantive step, we face a serious challenge,” Itamar Rabinovitch said on the Walla! site. “We have heard several fine speeches in the past few days.  Both Netanyahu and Obama are excellent speakers, but they both made tactical errors that unnecessarily exacerbated the confrontation. “

Bibi’s poll numbers were up, according to Ma’ariv, in part because of he challenged Obama’s declaration that negotiations should start with 1967 borders, an emotional hot spot for Israelis, who equate those lines with vulnerability.  All but lost in the kerfuffle between the leaders, however, was the reason Obama mentioned 1967 — to give Palestinian leaders an incentive to re-0pen peace talks.  All the other relevant language in Obama’s Thursday speech read like talking points from the Prime Minister’s Bureau, a fact not lost on the Palestinian Authority, which along with Hamas, is particularly attentieve just now not to the nuances of a moribund and unproductive peace process, but rather to a demanding population emboldened by the Arab Spring. By the time Netanyahu left Washington, Palestinian officials had declared the peace talks deader than ever and the road wide open to the glittering green tower on the East River.

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