The Middle Eastern Art of Negotiation

In one dramatic respect, what distinguishes Benjamin Netanyahu from many of his predecessors as Prime Minister–and from many of his contemporary Israeli politicians–is that he understands the art of negotiation. Whereas Barak, Olmert, and Livni have been more than willing to agree to Israeli concessions in advance of negotiations with the Palestinians, Netanyahu has kept his cards close to the vest–not agreeing in principle to many of the principles demanded by those putting pressure on Israel.

1967 lines, 1:1 land swaps, division of Jerusalem–these are but three negotiating concessions that Netanyahu has adamantly refused to accept in advance of head to head negotiations. This is the quintessential problem that Netanyahu had with Obama’s Middle East speech–it aspired to give away Israeli bargaining positions, something that Netanyahu rightly would not countenance.

It has been interesting to see two reactions to Netanyahu’s position on the 1967 lines and one to one swaps. Yesterday, Hamas has declared that the starting point for negotiations should be the 1948 lines (not the 1949 armistice lines)–in other words, the initial lines drawn by the United Nations to establish the state of Israel. In short, the Hamas starting point is that Israel should not exist.

And as for Tzipi Livni, she is more than happy to give away the Israeli store before any negotiations, calling on Israelis yesterday to accept Obama’s formulations. It is no wonder that the Arabs would love for Livni to be Israeli PM; they would be served every one of their demands on a plate.

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