Abbas: The "I Don't Trust You" No
Here's the blunt truth: Mahmoud Abbas's willingness to push ahead with his U.N. statehood bid over strong U.S. objections will not advance the two-state cause. But his reasons for doing so are perfectly understandable.
Abbas is weak and feckless. But he has given up the gun and is likely the best partner Israel has ever had. Negotiations aren't an option right now, and we'd be foolish to push him back to the table when Netanyahu is sure to offer only embarrassment and inevitable failure. Hamas is rising and the Palestinian Authority's cred is falling after having failed to deliver either an end to Israel's occupation or economic prosperity. Abbas is long in the tooth and thinking about his legacy, even if it's only a matter of symbols.
Abbas would like to work with the United States. But he just doesn't trust Obama -- and he shouldn't. If the key American talking point to block the recent Palestinian initiative at the United Nations was "don't move, I'll gin up a big peace initiative, just be patient," I can see why Abbas went to New York.
Netanyahu: The "Screw you and the Pony you Rode In On" No
Bibi is feeling pretty good these days - and the Israeli premier is usually on his guard about something. The Gaza operation worked out pretty well. He got Egypt and the United States to hold his coat while he conducted an intense air and missile campaign. He's got no serious challengers in the upcoming elections.
Isn't it the time for magnanimity, or at least a little forbearance, you ask? Have you ever met Bibi? It's a perfect time to stick it to both Abbas and the Americans. Abbas has just delivered a speech at the United Nations that doesn't mention two states for two peoples, talks about Israel's racist colonialist policies, and leaves the Israelis guessing about the Palestinians submitting war crimes charges to the ICC.
So let's build, Bibi thinks. Not only housing units in east Jerusalem -- but why not take additional steps on the controversial E-1 master plan? Bibi knows this is an American red line. But he likely figures he can shore up his right-wing base and get away with it in Washington. He's testing Obama early in the second term and figures that the president won't push back against Israel -- particularly now that he's approaching the end game on the fiscal cliff with Republicans who are looking for vulnerabilities they can exploit.
Putin: The "What Do You Expect from an ex-KGB Leader of a Fading Great Power" No
We've seen Putin in three different terms so far -- two as a president, one as prime minister. And while he's not above cutting deals with Obama, what's come through more strongly is his need to stand up to the United States and use it as his punching bag. Whether it's on missile defense, Syria, expelling USAID, or blasting America's ambassador to Moscow, Putin has launched a full-fledged assault on U.S. interests and values.
This kind of behavior isn't just tactics, it's deeply ingrained in the nature of an obsessively suspicious former intelligence agent whose distrust of the West is as firmly anchored as his love of Russia, and his grieving over the loss of status and prestige of the Russia that used to be.
Putin just can't help himself. His first inclination is to believe the worst about U.S. motives. The marriage of insecurity and grandiosity in his own personality -- and in Russia's national identity -- guarantees it. Getting Putin to say yes may be possible, but it's bound to be a long and painful process. Any reset of relations will continue to be hostage to Russia's own authoritarian system and Putin's authoritarian and controlling personality.