Israel, Palestinians & Mid-East

Beyond the UN General Assembly

[ Transcribed excerpts from an audio discussion available at the Israel Policy Forum.]

“Over the last few weeks I have been more worried about what’s going to happen on the ground than in New York.  And I think to celebrate the relative calm on the ground in the way that Israel’s Foreign Minister Lieberman did in the last 24 hours saying ‘it’s not a tsunami, it’s not even rain,’ is a bit premature.

"Abbas remains true to the policy he had before going to New York, which is to make negotiations contingent on a set of conditions. Now, I can understand that there is a great suspicion on the part of the Palestinian leadership regarding Netanyahu’s real intentions and real seriousness. But, I think the Palestinians are making a mistake on a strategic level and a tactical level.

"On the strategic level I think it is a mistake because making negotiations contingent and, of course, then the result having no negotiations, is very negative from the Palestinian standpoint. Because, first of all, negative facts on the ground continue, especially as far as settlement construction is concerned. And secondly … [the situation on] the ground produces lots of threats and if those threats are not addressed by providing some alternative to the present stalemate, then lots of the strategic gains the Palestinian have made in terms of state building and rebuilding their economy in last three years can easily go down the drain.

"Tactically, I think it’s a mistake because if the Palestinians are suspicious of Netanyahu and think he’s bluffing, then tactically – if that’s what they think – then they should call Netanyahu’s bluff. And by engaging in negotiations, if they can engage in negotiations without preconditions but set for themselves and maybe for others a time limit during which they can test if Netanyahu is serious or not, they could do that. But, basically just continuing to make negotiations contingent on all sort of preconditions I think it’s against the Palestinian interest.

"The problem is now the Palestinian expectations are very high. These expectations are definitely not going to be met overnight. And the most credible public opinion polls we have indicate massive, massive support for all sorts of massive protests and acts of symbolical assertions of sovereignty, including even if they entail the US Congress taking punitive measures with respect to the $500 million a year [in aid to the PA)]  whether Israel not transmitting customs and taxes that Israel collects for the Palestinian Authority;. confrontations with soldiers and  settlers and so on and so forth;  Ranging from mass demonstrations in Kalandia [checkpoint],  to assertions of responsibility over some parts of ‘Area C,’ assertion of sovereignty over the Allenby Bridge and so on and so forth. That’s what the public opinion polls tell us.

"Now that seems to me that the basic conditions for mass confrontations exist. That mass confrontation, as far as the Palestinians are concerned, [is] meant to be nonviolent. But, these kind of confrontations initially nonviolent can turn very quickly to violent confrontation.

"To me, what this means is the situation on the ground is still very, very dangerous. In the sense that the basic conditions for a major flare up are there. What exactly the nature of a flare up will be is very hard to predict, and what will trigger it is also very hard to predict.  So all I’m saying is that I think that to say 'all this was great' and 'look: the situation the day after is not nearly as bad as some of the people like Defense Minister Barak predicted,' I think (to say that) is much too early."