On December 13, out of nowhere, without any prior notice, the world woke up to a dramatic new reality: Beyonce released her fifth album.
“Well, that was unexpected,” read a report in Rolling Stone. “Beyonce released a new album at midnight without warning, delivering 14 new songs and 17 videos as part of what she’s calling her first ‘visual album.’” She didn’t do it, however, like it is usually done.
There was no pre-album publicity, no rolling out a song for advanced radio play, no glittering launch party. First there was no album, and then there was.
The music pundits were enthralled. How could this be? Who does this sort of thing? How could this secret have been kept for so long? What audaciousness, what daring, what spunk! And, within less then a week, a million copies were sold.
Will diplomacy, specifically Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy, imitate pop music? Will we all wake up one morning, in the not-too-distant-future, with US Secretary of State John Kerry rolling out a peace deal scripted, scored and choreographed in rooms way out of the public’s view? Probably not. What can you do? Israeli-Palestinian peace is a bit more difficult than even delivering 14 new songs and 17 new music videos on the sly.
But still, there are undeniable signs on the ground that something is afoot, that there may be more to the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian talks than immediately meets the eye. It is the Christmas/New Year’s holiday season around the world, which means that Kerry likely won’t be back in the region for another round of shuttle diplomacy until at least the week after next. But that does not mean everything has stopped. The clock is ticking, and the nine-month period allocated for this round of negotiations is well past the halfway point.
Kerry has said repeatedly that in order for the talks to succeed, there must be radio silence, so that negotiators have the space to talk without everything playing out in the press, and – as a result – without the negotiators having to grandstand for their audiences.
Although this radio silence has not been fully maintained, there is very little concrete information out there about what is being discussed, and how things are truly going.
There are snippets of information, some of it contradictory.
There are numerous references to a “framework agreement,” though no one is really explaining what that means or fully entails. There is a great deal of talk about US security proposals, though the Americans are only calling them “ideas” and have not revealed their content. Some of the reports say the US has accepted Israel’s security demands for the day after a Palestinian state, others say they have not. There is a plethora of speculation, but no coherent picture.
And yet, there still are signs.
One telltale sign that we may be on the cusp of something significant is Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s declaration this week that any US proposal would have to go to the Arab League for approval.
According to a report from the Palestinian Ma’an news agency, Abbas – at an emergency meeting of the Arab League last Saturday in Cairo – said that a US framework agreement would be coming soon, and once it arrived he would “not respond, but will present it to the Arab nations to make a joint decision.”
Abbas needs cover. He needed cover – in the form of Arab League approval – to enter into the negotiations with Israel in late July, and he will need cover now to make the fateful decisions required if the negotiations are ever to succeed.
Abbas, on his own, will not be able to make the historic compromises that will realistically have to be made.
He will not be able to forfeit the right of the descendants of Palestinian refugees to return to Israel; give up any Palestinian sovereignty on any part of east Jerusalem; agree to a long-term/permanent IDF presence in a Palestinian state; put an end to all claims on Israel; or agree that his future state will, indeed, be demilitarized and not be able to enter into treaties with whomever it wishes (Iran, for instance). He simply does not have the authority or the power to do this. For that, he will need Arab League consent and support.
An announcement that he will take American proposals to the Arab League is a sign that he feels the day of reckoning – when he will have to make those decisions – may indeed be near.
If that day is near for Abbas, it is also near for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. His decision in July to release 104 convicted Palestinian terrorists just to enter into talks with Abbas (26 of them are scheduled to be let go in the coming week) – a decision he has called among the most difficult he has ever had to make – will pale in comparison to the decisions he will have to make regarding an agreement.
These decisions, obviously, will entail withdrawing from most of Judea and Samaria, uprooting tens of thousands of Jews from their homes, and agreeing to share sovereignty over parts of Jerusalem.
But if things really are moving, one could argue, then why is there relatively little Israeli political foment right now? Why are the Likud MKs to Netanyahu’s right (such as Deputy Ministers Danny Danon and Ze’ev Elkin) not staging a revolt? Why is Bayit Yehudi staying in the coalition?
There are two possible answers.
The first is that both the right flank of Likud and Bayit Yehudi may be assuming that Abbas would likely turn down any deal, essentially taking the coals out of the fire for them. Why, Naftali Bennett and Uri Ariel must be thinking, should they pull their party out of the government over an accord, if in the final analysis no deal will be made because Abbas can’t agree to it?
The second possible answer is that they, like the public, are also not privy to all the details, and are being kept – purposely – in the dark so as not to prematurely spark a coalition crisis. Yediot Aharonot ran a story on its front page Thursday reporting of a secret channel that existed between Netanyahu and Abbas before the talks were restarted in July. Who is to say that a similar back-channel is not, Oslo-like, functioning right now, out of the Bennett and Danon’s line of sight?
Another sign, much worse, that something significant may be afoot is the recent upsurge in terror, an upsurge felt by all this week.
In the six months since the talks began at the very end of July, some six Israelis have been killed in terrorist incidents, compared to one Israeli killed in a terror attack from January through July.
But that figure only tells part of the tale.
The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) released its monthly tally of terror attacks for November, and reported an increase in attacks to 167, from 136 in October. This included four mortar launchings, 21 improvised explosive devices, 136 firebombs, two small arms shooting attacks, two stabbing attacks and two stone-throwing attacks (that number was much higher, but not all rock-throwing incidents are recorded as terror attacks).
In July, the month the talks began, the number of attacks stood at 82, and has risen steadily since.
All this fits into a pattern known well to all here: the more talks occur, the more they look as if they might produce some results, the more Israelis are killed – as the terrorists do what they can to either scuttle an agreement, or try to pressure the country into more concessions.
And then there was all the talk this week of releasing convicted Israeli agent Jonathan Pollard. Channel 2 reported that Netanyahu will ask US President Barack Obama to release Pollard either when the US announces a framework agreement and will seek Israeli approval, or when Israel is expected to release a final batch of Palestinian prisoners, and may be asked to set free six Israeli Arabs convicted of terrorist acts.
The talk this week of releasing Pollard was obviously connected to revelations that the US has been spying on Israeli leaders, but this was not the sole reason; Netanyahu took pains to disassociate the two issues. Pollard’s name has arisen in the past at forward stages of negotiations, such as when Netanyahu reached a deal with US president Bill Clinton to release Pollard as part of the Wye River accord in 1998, something scuttled at the last minute when then-CIA director George Tenet threatened to resign if Pollard was let go.
And the final sign that we all may be surprised in the near future is that Israel will go ahead next week with yet another release of convicted terrorists. This, too, has turned into a ritualized pattern: Israel draws up a list of 26 prisoners, the media – for a few days prior to the release – discuses the names of the murderers and the atrocities they committed, the families of the victims speak of their sense of betrayal, and the terrorist are let go and greeted by Abbas as heroes in Ramallah.
It happened in August, it happened in October, and it is scheduled to happen again next week and again by the end of May. And, as was the case both in August and October, it will be coupled with the government announcement of some new settlement construction beyond the Green Line: mostly in Jerusalem and the large settlement blocs, but also elsewhere.
These announcements, also as if on cue, will spark Palestinian hand-wringing and both European and US condemnation, especially sharp from the European side.
But nevertheless, the move will go on – Netanyahu will release the prisoners, despite doing so during an increase in terrorism and despite the domestic outcry he will face, and Abbas will swallow the construction announcements, despite his furious denunciations.
That both Netanyahu and Abbas will continue with the talks is also a sign of something. Sure, it is a sign that neither wants to be blamed for the breakdown of the negotiations, but it is also an indication that they don’t want the negotiations to break down. Which means something may indeed be moving, though exactly what no one really knows – except for Abbas and Netanyahu, and they are still keeping everything very close to their chests.