The indefatigable US Secretary of State John Kerry is slated to return to the
region this week in yet another push to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
And Kerry’s visit seems to coincide with a certain softening of stances, at
least according to selected media reports.
Channel 2 reported on Monday
that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was prepared to return to the
negotiating table without any preconditions.
Until now the Palestinians
have demanded a settlement freeze, the release of Palestinian prisoners and
assurances that the borders of a future Palestinian will be based on the 1949
Ma’ariv reported that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu
might be willing to make concessions to facilitate the beginning of direct
negotiations with the Palestinians after a break of nearly three years. Israel
is reportedly willing to impose a limited building freeze outside major
settlement blocs and release some Palestinian prisoners arrested before the
signing of the 1993 Oslo Accords.
Shortly after the reports, based on
unnamed sources, however, both sides were quick to dampen
Saeb Erekat, chief negotiator for the PLO, told Army Radio
on Tuesday he knew nothing of any Israeli gestures regarding a building freeze
or the release of prisoners. And in Jerusalem, government sources expressed
skepticism about Palestinian willingness to enter negotiations without any
Immense pressure is being brought to bear on both sides by
the Americans who do not want to see Kerry’s efforts fail. Neither side wants to
be the one blamed for torpedoing talks.
Yet, even if Palestinians and
Israelis are brought together – say in a tent placed at a point equidistant from
Ramallah and Jerusalem like the one Netanyahu suggested in a recent interview
with The Washington Post – finding common ground on key issues such as
Palestinian refugees, the future of settlement blocs such as Ariel and Ma’aleh
Adumin, Jerusalem and security arrangements will be much harder.
time when the region is in turmoil, even those in the government who, like
Netanyahu, favor, at least in principle, some kind of two-state solution are
rightly wary. The rockets being fired from Gaza Strip at Jewish towns in the
South in recent days are a reminder of what happened after Israel dismantled its
settlements in Gaza, removed its soldiers and gave Palestinians limited
Unless the government is vigilant, the same sort of scenario
could easily repeat itself in the West Bank.
Palestinians would control
areas located just a few kilometers from strategically sensitive sites such as
Ben-Gurion Airport. A Hamas takeover of the West Bank is a real possibility,
particularly at a time when like-minded Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated parties
have risen to power in Egypt and Tunisia, are leading the opposition to Basher
Assad’s Alawite regime in Syria and are the biggest threat to the stability of
King Abdullah’s regime in Jordan.
The PA’s incessant incitement against
Israel, such as the glorification of terrorists who murdered innocent civilians,
combined with widespread PA corruption, the violent bullying of dissidents who
dare to criticize any of the PA’s policies – including its ongoing military
cooperation with Israel – are pushing more Palestinians in the West Bank into
the arms of Hamas.
Hamas offers a less corrupt alternative to the
And supporting Hamas lacks the internal contradictions and hypocrisy
of backing a regime that cooperates with Israel, at least on security issues
that help the PA monopolize the use of force in the West Bank, while at the same
time vilifying the Jewish state and calling for boycotts, divestments and
While many, if not most, Israelis believe in principle that a
two-state solution is the only way to ensure that the country remains both
Jewish and democratic, the realities on the ground are scary. Memories are still
vivid of how previous attempts at peace in 1993 (Oslo) and in 2000 (Camp David)
deteriorated into waves of terrorist attacks.
are wary of going down that road again. Kerry should keep this in mind as he
returns to the region this week.