US President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu are both in the midst of fruitless negotiations for basically the same reason.
Obama is negotiating with Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff while Netanyahu is negotiating with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
The President offered Boehner huge concessions reducing stimulus spending from $425B to $175B, abandoning extension of the payroll tax holiday and slashing entitlement spending (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid) by $725B in order to obtain a modest 2% increase in taxes for the wealthiest 0.7% of Americans which he could have obtained automatically simply by waiting for New Year’s. Boehner and Obama seemed close to an agreement and much was made of the fact that neither was willing to bridge the (relatively) small gap that remained between them.
However, in the end the inability to come to agreement with Boehner was probably irrelevant since Obama was negotiating with someone who did not have to power to deliver the votes. Boehner was unable to get enough votes to pass his own so-called “Plan B” which would have raised taxes on the poorest Americans by up to $1500 by eliminating the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit while simultaneously permitting tax rates to rise for 400,000 extremely wealthy families. Boehner’s failure Thursday night to win support for his plan from the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party forced him to shutter Congress for the holidays without avoiding the “fiscal cliff.”
Similarly, one Israeli government after another is having difficulty bringing Abbas to the negotiating table let alone coming to a peace agreement with him despite a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, economic support for the Palestinian Authority and other concessions. However, this failure is almost irrelevant since the Palestinian Authority is not really controlled by its nominal figurehead Abbas in Ramallah, but rather by Hamas in Gaza.
So why does Netanyahu waste his time talking to Abbas when it is clear that the leadership of Hamas holds all the cards?
The problem is that Hamas is a terrorist organization which by its very charter defines itself as devoted to the complete destruction of the State of Israel. By choosing essentially civilian targets and terror tactics, Hamas holds itself outside the rules of conventional warfare and maintains its status as a pariah organization with whom negotiation is anathema.
Similarly, the Tea Party has shown itself time and time again willing to hold the economy of the country hostage to its own interests. The 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution says that our national debt “shall not be questioned.” Unlike Greece, our debt is in our own sovereign currency. If worse came to worst, our lenders should know that we can always simply print what we owe them, so they could consider United States Bonds to be completely risk-free and charge us the lowest rate available. However, by playing a game of “chicken” with the debt ceiling, the Tea Party puts the entire solvency of our country needlessly into doubt.
Now with the fiscal cliff, Grover Norquist and his Tea Party allies are unwilling to bend on the smallest tax increase for the wealthiest Americans in order to avoid across the board tax increases and automatic budget cuts will would certainly put our economic recover into jeopardy.
Since Netanyahu and Obama’s real opponents (Hamas and the Tea Party) are intractable ideologues with whom there is no hope of negotiating, Netanyahu and Obama persist in hoping that negotiating with figureheads (Abbas and Boehner) will give their negotiating partners the “street-cred” necessary to make a deal.
Well, good luck with that!