Israeli government's reluctance to release the last 26 Palestinian prisoners in a four-installment deal to revive peace talks because it felt Mahmoud Abbas would leave the negotiations anyway appears to be justified.
Abbas even refused to meet with Secretary of State John Kerry to discuss Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's offer to release the 26 terrorists along with several hundred other prisoners and impose a partial West Bank construction freeze in return for extending the present talks until early next year.
Abbas then moved quickly to do what he had promised Kerry and Netanyahu he would not do: apply for membership in numerous U.N. organizations in a bid for unilateral – instead of negotiated -- recognition of statehood. Whether this is a bargaining ploy or a real breakdown in talks remains to be seen. But it does mean Israel must prepare an alternative strategy.
That's the assessment of former Israeli Ambassador to Washington Michael Oren.
"Israel has to keep paying the Palestinians to remain at the negotiating table, doling out assets. What happens when it runs out of assets? There's no indication that I have seen that significant progress has been made in the talks," Oren told a conference call organized the Israel Policy Forum (IPF).
He questioned whether the Palestinians are even capable of or willing to make decisions.
Abbas embraces terrorists released from Israeli prisons and treats them as heroes, Oren said. He may have good domestic political reasons for this but it has a very negative affect on Israelis.
If the Palestinians prove unable or unwilling to continue the peace talks, as seems increasingly likely, Oren believes Israel should consider taking unilateral steps to disengage.
Each side has its Plan B in case these talks collapse. The Palestinians have already begun carrying out their threat to go to the United Nations; other threatened moves include pressing for international anti-Israel boycotts, sanctions and divestment, filing war crimes charges at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, and seeking full United Nations recognition and membership.
In that event, said Oren, who has returned to academia, the United States should help protect Israel against financial, political and diplomatic attacks. The US would most likely veto any Palestinian application for full recognition, which must be approved by the Security Council. However, many of the other Palestinian initiatives would go through the General Assembly, where the Muslim and third world blocs have the votes to do to Israel anything they wish.
Under Oren's Plan B, Israel would unilaterally declare its own borders but hold off any withdrawal to give the Palestinians time to respond diplomatically. If that fails, he proposes Israel implement its plan.
"That would transform relations with the Palestinians to one of a border dispute," he said, adding that there are numerous examples of countries that coexist under similar conditions.
He admitted the unilateral approach may not be very popular because many Israelis recall the withdrawal from Southern Lebanon and Gaza led to the takeover of those groups by terrorist groups who used them to launch attacks on Israel.
If, following this week's developments, the Kerry initiative is really dead and not just on life support, Oren's Plan B deserves some serious discussion by Israelis across the board.
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