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Two-states is so dead, it isn’t on the Bennett-Biden agenda

CM 24/08/2021 1

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It’s symbolic of how Prime Minister Naftali Bennett views the significance of this trip to Washington that he flew off without nary a word about the Palestinians.
Iran, the COVID-19 Delta variant and even climate change were on his list of issues as he stood on the tarmac at Ben-Gurion International Airport and briefly outlined for reporters the scope of the trip.
It was as if the IDF had not sent reinforcements to the Gaza border,  fearing an escalation of violence while Bennett was in Washington for his first ever meeting with US President Joe Biden.

It was as if the Palestinian Authority was not in such a deep financial crisis that it may not be able to pay its workers this month, a move that would add tension to an already volatile situation in the West Bank.
Just a mere three months ago, failure to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict had led to an 11-day war with Gaza, generated violence in Jerusalem and sparked Jewish-Arab riots throughout sovereign Israel.
But now, in the heat of August, those May events were treated like some distant nightmare best left locked in the closet and ignored.
When talking about the trip, Bennett and those close to him have focused all attention on Iran and its burgeoning nuclear threat.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett leads a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on August 8, 2021. (credit: OHAD TZVEIGENBERG‏/POOL)Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett leads a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on August 8, 2021. (credit: OHAD TZVEIGENBERG‏/POOL)
Disagreements over strategy when it came to halting Tehran’s nuclear  threat had been a source of tension between Israel and the former Obama administration. It had been expected that it could similarly set Bennett and Biden off on the wrong course.
But the further radicalization of Iran’s government, its increased uranium enrichment and the difficulties the US is experiencing in rejoining the 2015 nuclear deal, have opened a window of opportunity for Bennett to find some common ground with Biden on the issue.
When it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, however, the only thing that binds the two men is a belief that right now it is enough to hold onto the status quo.
Domestically the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a third political rail neither man can afford to grasp onto. Biden is at odds with the left-wing of his party on the subject, much as Bennett’s  views run against the grain of the parties on the left of his coalition.
In talking about the upcoming Bennett-Biden meeting with KAN Radio, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked of Bennett’s Yamina party said that “the topic of the Palestinians is not the most burning issue on the agenda, not even for the president.”
Indeed the bar has been set so low, that Bennett is heading to Washington with fewer expectations on the Israeli-Palestinian track than any other prime minister in almost three decades.
In speaking of the meeting with The Jerusalem Post, former top Israeli negotiator Gilead Sher said he believed that it would have been important for Bennett to speak of support for a two-state solution.
“The main question is whether Naftali Bennett, the right wing former [director-general] of the Yesha council, would subscribe at any point in time to the ‘two states for two peoples’ solution or at least not eliminate this solution,” said Sher who was chief-of-staff under former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. Sher is now a fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute.
There seems to be little indication, however, that even that basic step would occur.
In what would once have been considered a diplomatic kiss of death those close to Bennett, such as Shaked and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, publicly reaffirmed the prime minister’s opposition to a Palestinian state less than a week before Bennett’s departure for Washington.
The Biden administration also seemed to downgrade expectations on that score. On Monday, US State Department spokesman Ned Price said of the coming parley that “we seek to see to it that Israelis and Palestinians alike can enjoy equal measures of what is important to both people: prosperity, freedom, and importantly, dignity.”
It was almost as if, even before the meeting took place, the Biden administration had written out acceptable talking points Bennett could get behind that did not address Palestinian statehood or self-determination.
Former Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren told The Jerusalem Post that Biden and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken were as committed as their predecessors Barack Obama and John Kerry, to a two-state resolution to the conflict. But they are not going to “go down that road” now because they fear it would bring down Bennett’s government.
Instead, Oren speculated, the conversation would focus on small steps, in which the US would ask Bennett to make gestures to the Palestinians.  If two-states is mentioned, it will be the US that speaks of it, he said.
The stumbling block here, however, is not just the policy difference between Bennett who opposes Palestinian statehood and Biden who believes in two states at the pre-1967 lines.
At issue is the acute financial and leadership crisis within the Palestinian Authority itself, that would make it impossible to move forward on statehood.
The question, these days, is less about how to make peace than how to prevent violence.
The conversation will likely focus on economic gestures Israel can take to help the Palestinians or steps in can refrain from taking in the West Bank’s Area C.
Bennett’s public silence on the Palestinians is less about the topic’s unimportance than about the absence of any possible horizon.
The harsh reality is that ‘two states’, once a standard bearer of the US-Israeli-Palestinian dialogue, has been buried so deep that the best one could hope for is a series of gestures to prevent violent explosions. 

Source: Jerusalem Post

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