Bad apples in the negotiating room

Published in The Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom, May 30, 2014.

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No progress can be made in Israeli-Palestinian relations with Indyk, Erekat and Livni at the helm. With them at the table, only rancor and rupture result. It’s time to make room for more equitable, reasonable and composed negotiators. 

It makes no sense to renew Israeli-Palestinian negotiations under the same terms as before, unless one is seeking another colossal failure. Nor can the talks resume with the same cast of characters in the negotiating room. As long as Martin Indyk, Saeb Erekat and Tzipi Livni are sitting at the table, only rancor and rupture can result.

US special envoy Dr. Martin Indyk, a long-time Oslo-era peace processor, was supposed to stick-handle the negotiations in between Secretary of State John Kerry’s visits. He was supposed to be the professional honest broker. He was supposed to implement Kerry’s declared approach of working “with” Prime Minister Netanyahu to advance the peace.

But when it comes to Netanyahu, Indyk has never been an honest broker. When it comes to Netanyahu, Indyk is an inveterate, intemperate and inimical partisan. Just read his book on the Clinton negotiating years. Just consider the things he has said since then.

And consider his veiled and public remarks since the breakdown of the Kerry process, where Indyk has placed the lion’s share of the blame for the collapse on Netanyahu’s “rampant” settlement activities and “large-scale” land confiscations.

This is, of course, both misleading and unfair, because according to the numbers there is no explosion of settlement activity; because continued but constrained Israeli home building in Jerusalem and in key settlement block areas was known to and accepted by all the parties in advance; and because when Israel did undertake a construction freeze, it did not bring the Palestinians to the table anyway, never mind elicit from the Palestinians any flexibility on key issues.

When Indyk nevertheless trashes Netanyahu, he does so out of well-honed reflex and deep-seated animus. And he does so to protect himself from admitting his own failures. Just as he and the Clinton administration team whitewashed Yasser Arafat and the actively terrorist Palestinian Authority in the 1990s, so too has Kerry’s team led by Indyk whitewashed Mahmoud Abbas’ refusal to recognize Israel as the nation state of the Jewish People and negotiate a true end-of-conflict agreement.

It’s just much easier for Indyk to bash Bibi than to face the truth about his own mistakes. The bottom line is that Indyk’s presence on the American negotiating team hinders, not helps, the diplomatic process.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat has held his position for more than 20 years, building up a sizable, self-perpetuating and self-aggrandizing empire for himself in the “PLO Negotiations Affairs Department (NAD).” There never has been a negotiation he hasn’t participated in – and purposefully obstructed. There never has been a negotiating session, I’m told, where he has brought a concrete compromise proposal to the table on any issue.

Instead, Erekat rants about Israeli oppression and crimes, and when he speaks to the press – he lies baldly and badly. Remember the so-called “Jenin massacre”? Another one of Erekat’s malicious mendacities and far-reaching fabrications.

Erekat was never serious about the recent talks either. Instead, he planned from the very beginning to abandon the process as soon as the PA got its terrorist henchmen freed from Israel jails, and then revert unilaterally to the “international route” – the seeking of global recognition for Palestinian statehood and the isolation of Israel.

Even before Kerry could present his bridging proposals in March, Erekat penned an official PLO strategy document (“Study Paper No. 15” of the NAD) which detailed the Palestinian strategy to blow the talks out of the water. Erekat called upon the PA to “put forward requests for accession to international institutions, protocols and conventions, and specifically the four Geneva Conventions,” and to move to “reconciliation and the strengthening of Palestinian national unity… with the Hamas and Jihad movements in election of a new State of Palestine Executive Committee.”

The bottom line is that Erekat’s presence on the Palestinian negotiating team hinders, not helps, the diplomatic process.

Tzipi Livni got her job as chief Israeli negotiator when Netanyahu was desperate to cobble together a coalition government after the Israeli elections and he needed the “leftist-centrist” cover that Livni could accord him. Since then, she has undermined Netanyahu every step of the way.

Two weeks ago, she defied the Prime Minister by meeting Abbas in London even though the cabinet (of which she is part) decided to break-off all talks with Abbas following the Hamas merger announcement. This alone should disqualify her from continuing as Israel’s chief negotiator.

The even more salient reason why Livni should be bummed out of the job is this: She is the worst possible negotiator one can imagine. Every day she issues another frantic statement to the effect that Israel is doomed, damned, finished, condemned and up a creek unless it urgently achieves a two-state solution. Otherwise, Livni wails, Israel will be isolated, boycotted and all-together ruined, and become a racist or a bi-national state.

Which is another way of saying to your Palestinian adversary: Please press me to the wall and abuse me because I’m desperate. I can easily be taken advantage of, since I need it so badly. This is a wretched and idiotic negotiating strategy.

What Livni should be saying to the Palestinians is: Look, we have the upper hand and you’re never going to get your state unless you get real and compromise. Until then, you suffer more than we do. Israel is managing just fine, and will continue to prosper despite Palestinian recalcitrance. Time is on our side.

But Livni has forlornly tied her personal political fortunes to the doomsday-is-coming argument, and just can’t control herself. She recklessly weakens Israel every day with her howling, yowling and groveling.

And thus the bottom line is that Livni’s presence on the Israeli negotiating team hinders, not helps, the diplomatic process. It’s time to dump Indyk, Erekat and Livni – bad apples in the search for peace – and make room for more equitable, reasonable and composed negotiators.

David M. Weinberg is a think tank director, columnist and lobbyist who is a sharp critic of Israel’s detractors and of post-Zionist trends in Israel. Read more »
A passionate speaker, David M. Weinberg lectures widely in Israel, the U.S. and Canada to Jewish and non-Jewish audiences. He speaks on international politics and Middle East strategic affairs, Israeli diplomacy and defense strategy, intelligence matters and more. Click here to book David Weinberg as a speaker

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