Leon Panetta, in a conversation with reporters on his way to visit Israel and Palestine, :
“There’s not much question in my mind that they maintain that (military) edge. But the question you have to ask is it enough to maintain a military edge, if you’re isolating yourself in the diplomatic arena?” Panetta said.
Panetta went on to say: “At this dramatic time in the Middle East….it’s not a good time for Israel to become increasingly isolated.” Panetta said Israel needed to repair its relationships with Turkey and Egypt and would urge both Israelis and Palestinians to restart peace negotiations, adding both sides ‘have nothing to lose.’ He indirectly spoke to the US fear that Palestinian expectations of statehood not met by a UN resolution could result in West Bank violence.
The good news is that finally, a high-ranking US official, is calling out the Likud government for its self-defeating policies, charging that Israel itself is responsible for most of the isolation it’s encountered. The bad news is that he, like other Western officials, is once again hiding behind a concern that raised Palestinian hopes could collapse into a third infatada. This is nonsense. The PA has made it clear it will initiate and support non-violent civil disobedience to occupation based on the Arab Spring tactics of Tunisia and Egypt, but will not tolerate violence on the West Bank.
I happen to think that Abbas should accept the Quartet push for new negotiations even if Israel doesn’t issue a moratorium on settlements. The ‘whole world is watching’ the post-UN maneuvering, and this is a perfect time for Abbas to call Netanyahu’s bluff by agreeing to restart negotiations and using that platform to expose the Likud’s double-talk and ‘refusnik’ program if Netanyahu demands that all previous Israeli PM negotiation position are null and void. In other words, give the Likud government enough rope to escape its self-defeating myopica and if not, to hang itself in the court of world opinion.
At this point, Israel has accepted the Quartet’s statement on restarting peace negotiation. President Abbas and the PA have asked the Quartet to clarify what it meant in calling for both sides to avoid putting ‘obstacles’ in the way of renewed talks. Of course, anybody following the drama knows that for Israel the allusion is settlements, and for Palestinians, it’s pushing forward with the UN vote.
So far, Israel has suffered no repercussions for setting up obstacle after obstacle for negotiations. Whether Panetta’s trip signals a change in US policy away from unquestioned support of the Netanyahu government remains to be seen.