The Quartet – made up of the US, EU, Russia and UN – is expected to issue yet another call for direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians following a high-level meeting in Washington on Wednesday.
But this time, unlike any other time during Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s tenure, the Palestinians may turn out to be somewhat more amenable, if only because since they broke off the low-level talks in Jordan in January that lasted a month, they have pretty much been pushed off the world’s radar screen – definitely not a place where they want to be.
Indeed, next week’s meeting between Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and Netanyahu may be a sign that the PA is rethinking its tactics as the world is focused elsewhere.
And the world is focused elsewhere.
For instance, when Netanyahu visited Washington in early March, the focus of his talks was on Iran, not the Palestinians. The issue did not come up until the second half of his meeting with US President Barack Obama, and hardly at all during their joint press appearance.
At the AIPAC Policy Conference, neither he nor Obama spent much time discussing the Palestinians, an issue that dominated each of their previous meetings over the last three years.
During the violence in the South last month, when rockets rained down on Israel from Gaza and Israel killed some 26 people in Gaza, all but a couple affiliated with terror organizations, the events were barely reported in the international media.
Two weeks ago, during the Global March to Jerusalem, the Palestinians failed to elicit much international attention.
And when Netanyahu sat down last week with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, they talked about many issues – the world financial crisis, the revolution throughout the Middle East, the situation in Syria and – of course – Iran, but the diplomatic process with the Palestinians did not even come up.
And this, according to one government official, was not unusual. Indeed, he said the issue is no longer raised – as it once was – in every meeting with visiting statesmen. It has been pushed aside by other issues.
The net result is that the tactic the Palestinians adopted since September 2010 – when PA President Mahmoud Abbas walked away from talks with Netanyahu and seemingly turned his back on the idea of a negotiated settlement to the conflict in favor of trying to get one imposed on Israel – has not produced results. Not only has the world not been able to impose a solution – indeed the International Criminal Court last week even refused to hear a case brought by the Palestinians regarding Operation Cast Lead – but it seems to be losing interest.
Granted, the UN Human Rights Council recently passed a resolution calling for a “factfinding mission” to probe the impact of the settlements on Palestinian human rights. But beyond the passing of the resolution, it is unclear – as US envoy Dan Shapiro said in an interview last week with The Jerusalem Post – when that mission will begin its work, or even if it will get off the ground.
Limiting the Palestinian options even further is the fact that the much hyped Doha reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas in February has led – pretty much as expected – nowhere.
Abbas, during a meeting with a dovish Israeli delegation on Sunday, warned that if Netanyahu did not accept his conditions for talks – a complete settlement freeze, the June 5, 1967 lines as the baseline of a future agreement and the release of Fatah prisoners incarcerated before the signing of the Oslo accords – then he might once again return to the UN and seek statehood recognition there.
That, however, seems unlikely, if only because Obama – who worked hard to prevent the notion from gaining any traction in 2011 – is likely to work even harder to oppose it in September 2012, just a few weeks before the November US elections.
So, along with the threats to return to the UN, Abbas also decided to send Fayyad to meet Netanyahu – the highest-level Palestinian official to do so since he himself met with the prime minister for a few weeks in September 2010. These are not negotiations, mind you, but rather an “exchange of letters,” with Fayyad expected to bring a letter to Netanyahu stating the Palestinian’s positions, and Israeli negotiator Yitzhak Molcho expected to follow a few days later by delivering a letter to Abbas stating Israel’s positions.
Abbas, having climbed up the tall tree of no-negotiationsuntil- all-settlement-construction- ends, finds it politically hard to sit down himself with Netanyahu to talk. Instead, he sends a letter. But, as Netanyahu now famously said in the context of Iran and its nuclear program, “If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then what is it?” As for the Quartet, it will likely issue a bland statement Wednesday praising this lowlevel engagement, even though it is much less than the negotiations it had hoped to see by now when it set out its framework for talks back in September.
From the Quartet’s perspective, with so many other flashpoints in the region, any engagement is better than no engagement at all, if for no other reason than that when you engage, you (usually) don’t shoot.