Welcoming the American initiative

Bringing everyone to the negotiating table has become the new goal, not reaching an agreement.

February 1, 2018 20:55
4 minute read.
Welcoming the American initiative

US President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence arrive for Trump to deliver remarks recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel at the White House in Washington, US December 6, 2017. (photo credit: REUTERS/JONATHAN ERNST)

Following President Trump’s controversial Jerusalem declaration, the US administration is putting forward a new initiative to reach a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. The Palestinians no longer view the US as a partner with which they can conduct fair negotiations, and therefore they’ve severed ties with the Americans.

Israel, for its part, is also not promoting any of its own initiatives at present. So, what can we expect to happen in the upcoming months between the branches of this non-romantic trilateral relationship between the US, Israel and the Palestinians?

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According to unofficial publications being circulated by the Americans, the US Mideast peace initiative is pressing to reach an interim arrangement between the two sides, without touching on hot topics that could blow up negotiations before a final agreement is reached.

Israel is interested in coming to the negotiating free of preconditions. Mahmoud Abbas, on the other hand, is more interested in stalling for time, putting on a happy face for the Palestinian people and presenting himself as a peace-seeking leader. This status quo can continue in this fashion for many more months, with everyone hoping for calm in the region. This way, the Americans can point to success in their foreign policy and will have time to deal with pressing domestic economic issues and relations with the European Union.

This optimistic outlook is, however, purely theoretical. The reality of the situation is completely different. Past and recent events lead us to believe that despite plans to hold negotiations without preconditions, that is an unlikely scenario, since both the Israelis and the Palestinians have redlines they cannot cross. For example, Israel is not willing to give up settlement blocs, and although in past discussions the Palestinians already agreed to leave them in place, this topic has somehow now become off-limits.

Despite Israel firmly declaring that Jerusalem will not be divided under any circumstances, the Palestinians still see the city as the capital of a future Palestinian state. The Palestinians are also demanding that the Jordan Valley be demilitarized, but the Israelis refuse to remove IDF troops and insist on retaining full military control of the area. The Palestinians are unequivocally demanding the right of return for all Palestinian refugees to their 1948 places of residence. Israel, of course, has been refusing to give in to this demand for decades now. The Israeli side has only agreed that the Palestinians can live in any territory that will fall within the borders of a future Palestinian state, once those borders are determined. One of Israel’s main demands has always been that the Palestinians recognize Israel as the Jewish state, which they refuse to do.

ALL OF THIS is in addition to the fact that a future Palestinian state will actually be two entities that are controlled by two separate leaderships. Fatah will continue to function like a sloppily run military organization in the West Bank, while Hamas, a savage terrorist organization, will control a second state in the Gaza Strip.

The Palestinians would then once again demand that Palestinian prisoners be released from Israeli prisons. Most of these prisoners have never been released before, and Israel would have a hard time approving such a move, and for good reason. Israeli families whose loved ones were murdered by these prisoners rightly say that these people should never be released.

We’ve found ourselves in similar situations many times. In 2010, the renewal of negotiations failed due to disagreements between the two sides. Over the last decade, there have been a number of attempts made by Americans and Europeans to get the political process back on track, with no success. One initiative was stopped when an intifada broke out, and another was stalled following a deadly terrorist attack. Numerous other efforts failed to get under way due to lack of motivation from both sides.

The level of motivation – on either side – has not risen recently.

Benjamin Netanyahu does not currently have the political backing of his party or government to come to any sort of arrangement with the Palestinians or to make any concessions. Any agreement that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas would bring would fail to satisfy demands that refugees be returned, Jerusalem be the capital of a Palestinian state and a Palestinian military be established.

Any agreement that Abbas reaches will be considered an utter failure.

Abbas has already lost his legitimacy as the leader of the Palestinian people, and a struggle over who will be his successor is proceeding at full speed. Even the issue of who will have control over religious sites in Jerusalem is no longer being discussed by Palestinians, since religious groups in Turkey and Saudi Arabia have become involved. So what can be done about this?

Everyone agrees that we need to prevent the further escalation of terrorism.

In principle, the dialogue between the two sides is an important tool for preserving the status quo and preventing the situation from worsening. Nobody really believes that current relations will lead to peace, but they might tide us over until a time when it might become possible.

Bringing everyone to the negotiating table has become the new goal, not reaching an agreement. It’s unlikely that any arrangement will be reached during Abbas’s time in office, unless something dramatic happens, and such an occurrence is unlikely.

The writer is a former brigadier-general who served as a division head in the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).

Translated by Hannah Hochner.

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