Peace talks 311.
(photo credit: Channel 10 News)
The peace process launched in Washington on September 1 essentially collapsed
before it began. The failure lies with all three principal parties: Israel, the
PLO and the United States. It is at once a failure of substance and of
At the most comprehensive level of substance, the ambitious goal
of ending the entire conflict within a year, proclaimed by the Obama
administration and the Quartet and endorsed by both Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu and PLO Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, is totally unrealistic, thereby
putting undue pressure on the negotiating parties. Following upon the
administration’s misguided and myopic focus on a settlement freeze, it casts
heavy doubt on Washington’s grasp of this conflict. One wonders whether a more
modest objective of defining the borders of a Palestinian state within a year
might not have set the process on more stable ground.
In parallel, at the
most detailed level of process, it was clear from the outset that none of the
three parties had a formula for bypassing or otherwise neutralizing the
expiration of the settlement construction freeze on September
Certainly the Obama administration offered no such
It apparently hoped, without foundation, that the very fact of
direct talks would soften Israeli and Palestinian intransigence on the
But for political or perhaps ideological reasons, Netanyahu could
not or would not renege on his commitment to his right-wing coalition to end the
freeze as promised, particularly after the first nine months of the freeze had
failed to persuade the PLO to enter into direct and active
And Abbas, having dithered throughout those nine months
under pressure from virtually all Palestinian factions – from Hamas to the
secular Left – not to negotiate without a permanent freeze, could hardly
capitulate at this juncture.
Perhaps even more pathetic is the current US
effort to entice Netanyahu into an additional, final freeze of two or three
months so the direct talks can resume. What could be accomplished in two months
that would save this process? The link between this time-span and the November 2
midterm elections in the US is painfully transparent.
MEANWHILE, THE very
failure of this brief process has generated a flurry of internal Israeli and
Palestinian and even inter-Arab dynamics that bespeak instability and disarray
and bode ill for future negotiations. Netanyahu has embraced highly problematic
initiatives by the most narrow- minded members of his coalition to legislate
loyalty oaths and referendums on future territorial concessions.
stands idly by while his foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, contradicts the
prime minister’s declared peace policies at the United Nations and insults
European dignitaries who come to offer help. But he also meets for the first
time in months with opposition leader Tzipi Livni, as unrest peaks within the
Labor Party and speculation grows that the coalition is beginning to fall apart
under the pressures of this peace process.
Of course, Netanyahu could be
trying to buy off his rightwing opposition; or he could be fishing for an excuse
to extend the freeze; or, alternatively, he might be circling the wagons to
rebuff an increasingly hostile international community.
political reality is too murky to tell. One thing is certain: Netanyahu’s choice
of a right-wing coalition is incompatible with his ostensible decision to opt
for a twostate solution. Here, yet again, we confront the toxic interaction
between Israel’s dysfunctional political system and the Palestinian
The Palestinian contribution to the current impasse is hardly less
significant. Abbas’s internal Palestinian political position is apparently so
weak that he elected, for the second time since the current process began, to
yield his decisionmaking responsibilities regarding negotiations to the Arab
League. Ten months ago, the League vacillated in its response, in effect telling
Abbas the decision about entering indirect negotiations was up to him. This time
it responded by giving him a month’s extension in the hope that a compromise
could be found.
Abbas has also, not for the first time, threatened to
resign and dissolve the Palestinian Authority, thereby adding a potential
escalatory dimension to the conflict by forcing Israel to either renew its rule
over the entire West Bank or acquiesce in some sort of international mandate.
Considering that the late Yasser Arafat even spilled Arab blood to guarantee the
“independence of Palestinian decision-making” in the face of repeated Arab state
attempts to manipulate the Palestinians’ fate, Abbas faces heavy internal
criticism over his new reliance on the League. Thus the Palestinian capacity to
embrace the demands of a new peace process appears to be as weak as that of
Israel under Netanyahu.
Meanwhile, the stewardship of Obama, Clinton and
Mitchell clearly suffers from a failure to recognize what, if anything, is
feasible and what is delusional in Israeli-Palestinian relations.The
writer is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of Internet
publications. He is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic
Studies at Tel Aviv University. This article first appeared at
www.bitterlemons.org and is reprinted by permission.