The resumption of direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations that is projected for
September 2 in Washington serves a number of useful purposes. Sadly, none of
them is directly connected to the effort to “resolve all final status issues”
trumpeted in statements by the Quartet and US Secretary of State Hillary
One advantage of these talks for Israel is that their very
existence is good for Israeli- American relations. As Gen. David Petraeus
explained not too long ago, a peace process facilitates improved US-Arab
relations that in turn ease the task of American forces in the Middle East. And
that reduces the potential for US resentment against Israel. This explains
Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s insistent calls for a serious peace process in
The talks are also good for Israeli-American relations
because hopefully they set the scene for some sort of negotiated
extension of a
full or partial settlement freeze – a key administration demand – prior
September 26 expiration date.
Then too, the administration needs these
negotiations for its own political purposes.
By pointing to this
achievement, it hopes to shore up its support base as midterm elections
BUT WHEN it comes to the substance of Israeli-Palestinian
relations, these negotiations become much more problematic. Neither
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu nor Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud
ideologically inclined or politically positioned to resolve all final
issues. The two leaders are far apart on the core issues of refugees and
disposition of the Jerusalem Holy Basin; all claims to the effect that
parameters of final status are well known” are completely misplaced when
comes to these two negotiating categories.
Further, Netanyahu has
deliberately surrounded himself with coalition partners who seriously
his freedom of diplomatic maneuver, while in Abbas’s case, both his
and his Hamas enemies are a major problem.
These negotiations could even
On the Israeli side, we could encounter attempts by
extremist settlers (remember Baruch Goldstein in Hebron in February
protest and provoke by attacking Palestinians. On the Palestinian side,
much larger scale, Hamas is poised to launch rocket attacks from Gaza
objective of disrupting negotiations. Moreover, as we saw in 2000, the
perception of failed negotiations can even generate a new intifada in
Bank. In this sense, the near certainty that Abbas and Netanyahu will
resolve all final status issues renders these negotiations, as projected
Washington and the Quartet, dangerous.
Where the negotiations could
conceivably be useful (and safer) for all concerned is if the American
steer them toward reinforcing and facilitating the one success story
point to: the Palestinian state-building effort in the West Bank. But
precisely not seeking to resolve all final status issues in this round
instead, focusing on confidence-building measures and gestures that
gap on borders and security.
Netanyahu’s apparent positions on these
issues may differ little from those of his predecessors, so there could
better chance here for progress. This, in turn, would ease the political
of international recognition for a Palestinian state – which is
Prime Minister Salam Fayyad for next August when, coincidentally or not,
administration and the Quartet want the new negotiations to be
Abbas enters these negotiations having been forced by American
and Arab pressure to abandon his demand that the 2008 talks with Ehud
the 1967 lines serve as points of departure. He clearly miscalculated
negotiating position, thereby weakening his political position at home
his neighbors. He would have been far better off abandoning
calling Netanyahu’s bluff months ago.
FINALLY, IN view of the growing
concern over Iran’s nuclear and regional ambitions in Washington,
many Arab capitals, one can only wonder at the administration’s failure
greater emphasis on negotiations between Israel and Damascus as well.
the only diplomatic way of weakening Iran’s penetration into the Levant.
also extremely important as the US draws down its forces from Iraq,
While an Israel-Syria negotiating breakthrough is far from
certain, the chances are much better than between Israel and Ramallah,
immediate regional payoff at least as great. President Bashar Assad is
extremely problematic partner (for both the US and Israel) and Netanyahu
from enthusiastic. Washington’s silence on this issue is troublesome.
writer is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of Internet publications.
former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv
University. This article originally appeared on www.bitterlemons.org and
reprinted with permission