MASKED Palestinian youth 311.
(photo credit: AP)
Whether or not a solution to the crisis over settlements is achieved in the coming weeks, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations are in serious trouble.
Haaretz quoted unnamed Western officials as saying the talks are “going nowhere.” And the most cautious, sober and measured member of the senior PLO leadership, Yasser Abed Rabbo, who is a member of the negotiating team, has been moved to declare that “there will be no serious political process with Netanyahu’s government.”
Most reports strongly suggest that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has
been unforthcoming on permanent status issues. According to these
sources, he refuses to meaningfully discuss core questions such as
borders and insists that security must be the main issue at this stage.
This has led to frustration not only among the Palestinians and other
Arabs, but in many circles in the West and the US.
This frustration is amplified by Netanyahu’s refusal thus far to accept
an exceptionally generous American inducement package in exchange for a
60-day extension to the partial settlement moratorium that expired in
Indeed, The New York Times
called the package “overly generous.”
Moreover, it is unclear what the Obama administration expects to be
different in two months, when the parties are likely to find themselves
in precisely the same situation. If the Americans have a game-changing
approach to unveil over the course of eight weeks, it’s the bestkept
secret in Washington.
The American hope may be that borders can be agreed in short order,
rendering the settlement issue largely moot, but the parties themselves
show little sign of believing that. We therefore have to face the fact
that negotiations would appear to be both stalled in substance and
threatened with a political crisis that may produce a breakdown. It
might be possible to keep the ball in the air by returning to indirect
negotiations or finding some other temporary stopgaps. But the
experience of the past few weeks does not augur well for prospects of
any kind of significant success in the foreseeable future.
THE PROSPECT of a breakdown again raises the specter of another
intifada, since many Palestinians may conclude that the occupation is
either permanent or that diplomacy is simply an ineffective tool in
resolving it and that a new uprising is the only remaining way to
The flashpoints are obvious. Especially in Arab neighborhoods of
occupied east Jerusalem, tensions are running high. Recently, a
Palestinian man was shot under extremely questionable circumstances by a
settler guard, and a 14-month-old baby was killed by tear gas fired by
security forces. Numerous buildings and even neighborhoods are under
fierce contention between aggressive settlers supported by both the
national and municipal authorities and Palestinians struggling to cling
onto their homes. If another intifada erupts, it may very well begin
But it is essential that Palestinians do not turn to, or allow
themselves to be sucked into, another round of violence. A third
intifada would undoubtedly follow the pattern established by the
relationship of the end of the first intifada to its beginning, and of
the second intifada to the first; a process has entailed ever-increasing
levels of violence, death and religious fanaticism on both sides.
Because of this pattern, the consequences of the second intifada were
disastrous for the Palestinian people and national movement. A third is
likely to be even worse.
FOR ISRAEL, a third intifada could well signal the squandering of the
last opportunity to divest itself of the occupation in a rational,
workable manner, rendering what will become the de facto Israeli state
as neither Jewish nor democratic in any meaningful sense and developing
and entrenching an apartheid character, especially in the occupied
It is imperative that some way is found to keep diplomacy alive, even if
it means a return to lessthan- optimal indirect negotiations.
In the end, both parties have no option but to work toward a negotiated
two-state peace agreement or continue with an ever-deteriorating
conflict. It is essential that international actors such as the US, the
European Union and the Arab League help find a formula to allow Israel
to make restrained settlement expansion, and the Palestinians to make
continued negotiations, politically plausible among both of their
domestic constituencies.The writer is a senior fellow at the
American Task Force on Palestine and blogs at www.ibishblog.com. This
article is published in conjunction with the Common Ground News Service.