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We’ve had another round of clamoring about who is responsible for the failure of Israelis and Palestinians to reach an agreement ending their disputes.

There are two fronts in the recent verbiage.

One consists of accusations by Mahmoud Abbas and Benyamin Netanyahu about one another’s willingness to meet.

Another concerns the prospect that a former commander of the IDF, Gabi Ashkenazi, will enter politics as a moderate, and lead one or another party to make peace with the Palestinians.

Both fronts are convoluted by other considerations, and we’re likely to be at the same place when the dust settles. It’s worth a bit of poking at the details to help clarify where we are, and where we ain’t likely to be going.

The Abbas-Netanyahu flap is marked with mutual accusations about who has rejected the possibility of talks. Mahmoud says that it is Bibi. Israeli opposition politicians are taking advantage of the furor to say once again that Netanyahu is fixed in the status quo, and causing the country problems with Americans and Europeans as well as Palestinians. Against this, there are Israeli centrists as well as rightists who  cite Palestinian polls showing that the weight of their public opinion in favor of violence, as well as a number of factions among Palestinians maneuvering to replace the moderate Abbas. It’s easy to claim that Abbas isn’t all that moderate. He praises martyrs who sacrifice themselves when attacking Jews, alongside his claims to oppose violence.

Abbas has said once again that he can’t accept the designation of Israel as a Jewish state without endangering Arabs, as shown by recent Israeli terror against Arabs. For Netanyahu, Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state is a prime demand for reaching an agreement.

Netanyahu says that Israel’s present thrust is not to keep knocking at Abbas’ door, but to nurture contacts with moderate Arab governments. The list features Saudi Arabia and Gulf Emirates, as well as Egypt and Jordan, all of whom are suspicious of Iran.. Israel has been warming things with the Kurds, perhaps as a swipe against Turkey’s leadership. Bibi says that Israel’s contacts with other Muslims may eventually bring Palestinians and Israelis closer together.

Gabi Ashkenazi left his position as chief of the IDF General Staff five years ago under a cloud of media revelations and police investigations involving his participation in a cabal of leading officers who worked against Defense Minister Ehud Barak and a prominent candidate in line to replace Ashkenazi. The story has come to the headlines in several waves, with more fuzziness than clarity about who did what.

The scandal focused on the impropriety of military personnel campaigning against decisions that were in the realm of their political superiors.

It’s been one of the “hot potatoes” of Israeli politics that the head prosecutor chose to avoid deciding. Prospects were that it would cause the prosecutor to go after Barak as well as Ashkenazi, even though some of Barak’s records had been erased. (Remember Nixon’s tapes?) Finally, however, the prosecutor announced that there was no evidence justifying  criminal charges against Ashkenazi and several others. At the same time, he also noted that Ashkenazi and colleagues had not acted properly, in the manner expected of senior IDF personnel. 

The qualified decision to close the prospect of a criminal charge has opened the competition between several political parties to woe Ashkenazi. Ashkenazi has a charismatic presence, said to have been a “general’s general” and among the most popular of men to have headed the IDF.

Supporters say that he is moderate on the issue of Palestine, and capable of leading the government to a breakthrough on issues of peace. 

On the other hand, he hasn’t said much in public, and his behavior as head of the IDF will open him to tough charges by those who oppose him. 

Askenazi also has an active wife, who was mentioned as participating in the cabal of generals. Few Israeli politicians act like Americans in making a big deal about their families, and most spouses are invisible. Not Sarah Netanyahu and not Ronit Ashkenazi. Yet Sarah is more a cause of public comment than an actual detriment to her husband’s career. So Ronit may likelwise figure more in media gossip than in derailing whatever becomes of Gabi.

Several polls taken within a day of the prosecutor’s announcement of closing the file against Ashkenazi and the efforts of several parties to recruit him show mixed results. One poll indicates that Ashkenazi running along with Kahlon and Lapid could overcome Bibi and Likud. Working against this combine, however, is the general Ashkenazi conspired against. Yoav Galant, is now a government minister, and a ranking Knesset Member of Kahlon’s party.

Other polls indicate that Ashkenazi would not add enough weight to any grouping to overcome the popularity of Benyamin Netanyahu. 

It’s early days. We still haven’t heard from Ashkenazi, so we cannot know how he would stand up to the open fires of political competition. 

It is also doubtful that Ashkenazi holds a magic bullet that will bring peace. 

None of his advocates has been able to identify a likely partner among the Palestinians. 

With the exception of leftists who see the lack of progress as entirely the fault of Israel, those hopeful of some solution are saying that the Palestinians have to produce a leader who can move from old demands, deal with the various centers of violent opposition within their community. 

Only then can such a Palestinian and an Israeli inclined to accommodation meet somewhere that could be called “halfway” or “part way” between the opposing positions that leaders of each side has clung to as the rest of us have grown older.

Comments welcome. Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus), Department of Political Science, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, irashark@gmail.com.


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