PM Netanyahu and President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas in Washington, 2010.
(photo credit: GPO)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas last week hinted that his visit to Washington next month might actually unfold as a 2017 version of the 2000 Camp David summit president Bill Clinton hosted for Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat.
“I am ready to meet the prime minister of Israel anytime in Washington under the patronage of President Trump,” Abbas told Japan’s Asahi Shimbun daily.
The PA president’s welcome announcement seemed to indicate that such an encounter is already in the works, subject to further clarifications as to the conditions for such a meeting.
Abbas expressed his concerns to the paper. “The question... before talking about any peace process, is to create the right environment for peace to come. This will be impossible as far as Israel’s colonial-settlement enterprise continues,” he said.
While the “colonial settlement” dig was standard Abbas rhetoric, the aging Palestinian leader might not exploit it this time as a pretext not to talk. On the contrary, after listening to Benjamin Netanyahu’s repeated declarations that face-to-face negotiations are the only path to a peace settlement, but that he unfortunately has no one to talk with, Abbas suddenly appears ready to call his bluff.
Netanyahu has for several months publicly called for Abbas to return to the negotiating table with Israel, without preconditions. Now an opportunity to resume talks is presenting itself, with the added bonus of sponsorship by the administration of US President Donald Trump.
The White House announced last Wednesday that Trump would meet with Abbas on May 3 in hopes of resuscitating the coma-bound peace process. The US president’s spokesman optimistically told reporters that Trump is seeking a “conflict-ending settlement” – the ultimate deal.
It is indeed conceivable that the US president will succeed where his predecessors failed to bridge chasms of doubt and mistrust between the sides. However unlikely this may seem, in the Trump era the world is becoming accustomed to unpredictability.
In addition to the challenges Abbas and Netanyahu must personally face in achieving a Trump-moderated compromise deal, both leaders must maneuver under the hanging threat of opposition by extremist constituencies that oppose a settlement based on the two-state solution the Muslim world rejected in 1947.
The unstated preconditions threatening progress are real: a Palestinian public that has been incited to pursue terrorism in order to defeat Zionism on one side, facing a settlement movement that rejects a two-state solution altogether and demands the full annexation of the West Bank on the other.
Abbas told US special peace envoy Jason Greenblatt recently that he believes an “historic” peace deal with Israel is possible with Trump in office. Could it be that his newfound belief is based on an emerging realization that the Palestinian ship of state has lost its steam and that the Muslim word, for all its rhetoric, does not really care about Palestinian independence? A reincarnation of previous Camp David summits by Trump may very well have a better chance to succeed, given the impetus of the chaotic violence in the Middle East and the growing menace of terrorism throughout the world.
When Clinton invited Barak and Arafat to Camp David in 2000, there was still hope that the momentum of the 1993 Oslo Accords between prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO chairman Yasser Arafat would lead to an agreement.
The accords had provided a timetable for a deal, the so-called “final status settlement,” which was supposed to be concluded within five years of the establishment of Palestinian autonomy.
The 2000 summit lasted for two weeks, from July 11 to 25, without agreement. The parties did, however, issue a statement that attempted to salvage matters, defining the agreed upon principles to guide future negotiations on final-status issues. Not surprisingly, these issues remain on the agenda today: territory, Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, refugees from both sides and the Palestinian demand for a so-called “right of return,” security arrangements, and settlements.
The defeat of high expectations 17 years ago had dire consequences: two intifadas and ongoing terrorism. While a sure way not to be disappointed is not to expect change, a new tripartite summit would take place in a much different Washington than before, where the unexpected rules.