Paris without Israel
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
Prime Minister Netanyahu once again has a problem. As occurred during the battle and discussion over the Iran agreement negotiations, Bibi does not control the multi-lateral diplomatic discussions transpiring at the Paris conference. Netanyahu is miffed, frustrated, and annoyed. He is also both right and wrong.
At the mega level, Netanyahu believes he is entitled to control events in the Middle East which involve Israel. There ought not to be a conference to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian situation unless he attends and wants it to occur. This is a meeting which has embarrassed Netanyahu by the very fact that it is happening. His annoyance helps to explain—at least in part–why Bibi has been making so much of a fuss as he shuffles his Cabinet; even continuing to seek to bring the Zionist Union into his coalition. It also explains why he even appeared ready to grasp at the straws offered to him by Egyptian President Sisi to convene a regional conference based on the Saudi Peace Initiative–the Arab Peace Initiative.
Not only does Netanyahu dislike Obama, Kerry, Abbas, and several other conference attendees, he fundamentally does not want anyone from the outside dictating terms to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In this respect Bibi is correct. Eventually only face-to-face negotiations will solve the conflict. He remembers that in 1991 Prime Minister Yitzchak Shamir—a hardliner in anyone’s book—did head the Israeli delegation to the Madrid Conference convened by Bush and Gorbachev.
Netanyahu’s problem continues to be internal Israeli politics. Instead of recognizing the strong position within which Israel sits today, Netanyahu still refuses to take dramatic steps for peace. Conversations and meetings have inherent value, especially at a time when Netanyahu has done such damage to Israel’s image throughout the world and even in the U.S.
Bibi wants to control events and keep power. The very fact that the French proceeded with this strategy was a clear response to their sense that Netanyahu was not ready to take any significant steps to move ahead on a peace process. It would have been so easy for Netanyahu to have changed the picture at no cost to Israel’s safety and security. He could have avoided being stuck in a reactive mode; but it would have required political will.