Appearing in today's Jerusalem Post is an article that caught my attention. According to the Post, and based on a report on Israeli Army radio (an official media organ if ever there was one), Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is proposing a release of convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard (convicted to a life sentence for espionage against the US in 1987) in exchange for committing to a 3-month extension of the 10-month phony "settlement freeze" set to expire on September 26. I found the original story on the web site of Israeli Army Radio (in Hebrew) here.
A few days ago on the eve of the resumption of the "direct talks," I pointed out in my blog that the last time Netanyahu engaged in face-to-face negotiations with the Palestinians under American auspices (back in 1996), he tried to elicit precisely the same deal for Pollard on the way to the now-forgotten Wye River Memorandum. Netanyahu argued in 1996 that only a release of Pollard would appease his political allies in his government, allowing him to sell the deal. Back in 1996, when everyone thought a deal had been struck, Netanyahu tried to strongarm President Clinton, threatening to back away from the Wye deal (read Dennis Ross's account of Bibi's "bullshit" in The Missing Peace, pp. 455-457). Clinton pushed back against Netanyahu's posturing, and the Pollard matter passed.
But Bibi is still Bibi. And once again, in exchange for a trivial 90 days of the diplomatic equivalent of a photo-op (extending a settlement freeze that really isn't a freeze), Bibi is apparently raising the same issue with the Americans.
Look - it's time to call a spade a spade. Netanyahu is not serious in these negotiations, and never was. There is so much hopeful blather in the news about the "new Bibi" - the chastened Netanyahu, now given a second chance to bring a historic peace to Israel. Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama announce their belief that Netanyahu is serious - the right-wing Israeli leader who can actually deliver his country for a pragmatic deal.
Preposterous. Netanyahu had an opportunity back in February 2009 to convene an Israeli government that might be responsive to a serious American-led diplomatic push. He could have created a viable right-centrist parliamentary majority in 2009; instead he opted for a hard-right coalition government. From the moment Netanyahu created this particular government, he indicated he has no interest in any peace process.
I don't mean to point my finger at Netanyahu alone. The Palestinian leadership is equally unfit for serious negotiations. It's just that I know the Israeli side better than the Palestinian side. Let another blogger write up the real intentions of Mahmoud Abbas. All I know is this -- don't expect Netanyahu to be The Peacemaker.