The Peace Process: The intersection of diplomatic and political folly

Most analysts agree that the current conditions are not ripe for an Israeli-Palestinian breakthrough.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) gestures as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas looks on (photo credit: REUTERS)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) gestures as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas looks on
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The terror attack on Tuesday by Nimer Mahmoud Ahmad Jamal outside the Jewish community of Har Adar, near Jerusalem, reinforced to many what a large portion of the population believes to be the primary reason that two decades of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians have failed to achieve peace—or, for that matter, establish the parameters for future peaceful co-existence.
The Israeli government attributes the endless cycle of violence to a veritable witch's brew of vitriolic Jew-hatred professed by Palestinian officialdom in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip and disseminated through its media organs.
While Islamist Hamas overtly calls for the destruction of the Jewish state, the Palestinian Authority's message is more subtle. 
Residents of Har Adar react to the terror shooting, September 26, 2017. (Tovah Lazaroff)
Accordingly, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has placed the blame for the Har Adar attack squarely on the shoulders of the PA which, he said, propagates "systematic incitement." Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman was more direct, designating the "incite[ment] to murder Jews and [the] glorif[ication] and praise [for] murderers…[as] the main reason that leads to terrorism against citizens of Israel."
From the picture of the killer emerging since he was shot by security guards, Jamal was not a typical terrorist: he was not directly associated with any violent group, had no criminal record and was not known to Israeli security forces. Although some who knew Jamal described him alternatively as a good family man who was quiet and respectful, when the going got tough—he may have had financial or marital problems, prompting his wife to abscond to Jordan—Jamal knew how to restore his honor: By killing Jews, Palestinian society would immortalize him.
"Distain for Jews has fueled the Arab-Israeli conflict for generations," Dr. Martin Sherman, the Executive Director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies, contended to The Media Line. "The common thread is an abiding refusal to accept any notion of Jewish sovereignty in the region, and this is unlikely to change."
As a result, he advocates for a controversial paradigm shift whereby Israel begins treating the Palestinians as enemies. "We are talking about a clash of two collectives with competing and mutually exclusive narratives that are irreconcilable—and only one side can win."
Israeli Border Policeman speaks out about killing the Har Adar terrorist, September 26, 2017. (Israeli Police
The Har Adar attack occurred on the same day that UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, accused both Israel and the Palestinians of violating UN Resolution 2334, which primarily opposes Israeli "settlements" and was adopted by the Security Council in December after then-US president Barack Obama checked his veto power at the door to Turtle Bay.
Mladenov's statements are informing, but according to many serve as yet another example the erroneous moral equivocation attributed to Israeli and Palestinian behavior, which has contributed to prolonging the conflict. Some argue it gives the Palestinians a pass for promoting murder while placing Israel in the docket for building across the 1967 borders.
"I urge both parties to demonstrate their commitment to rejecting violence, inflammatory rhetoric and provocative actions," Mladenov began with a common platitude, before highlighting multiple calls for a "day of rage" (i.e. Palestinian protests that inevitably descend into clashes with Israeli security forces) made by the PA and Hamas during this summer's crisis over the Temple Mount/Al-Aksa Mosque.
The UN envoy also noted that the Palestinian leadership "continued to openly glorify attacks [and their perpetrators] as heroic," a recent example being Abbas' salute to Palestinian "martyrs" and "courageous prisoners" during his speech to the UN General Assembly.
By contrast, Mladenov's fiercest criticism of Israel was that government officials had used "provocative rhetoric" in support of settlement growth, which he said violates Jerusalem's obligations. Additionally, one Israeli parliamentarian was called out for expressing a desire to "destroy" the hope for a Palestinian state.
Israel is clearly not held blameless, as the settlement issue is a contentious one that some claim invites Palestinians to violence. By building on land claimed by the Palestinians, the Netanyahu government has also incurred the diplomatic wrath of most countries, while providing the basis for the moral equivalence that treats Israeli and Palestinian transgressions alike.
According to Brig. Gen. (ret.) Shlomo Brom, the head of the Program on Israeli-Palestinian Relations at Israel's Institute for National Security Studies, "Jerusalem has to change its approach, because the assets are all in its hands. For example, Netanyahu could open up Area C to economic development to the Palestinians, where new towns and infrastructure can be built, [thereby establishing conditions for joint cooperation]."
Brom told The Media Line that he continues to view the conflict as territorial one, rather than national or religious in nature, an assessment he conceded may no longer be in vogue.
As regards Palestinian incitement, he agreed that it existed but noted that "it is often used as a convenient excuse by people who do not want to do business with each other."
Whereas Mladenov indeed concluded that no steps have been taken by either party "to reverse negative trends on the ground that are imperiling the two-state solution," this has not dissuaded the professional peace-processors from the pushing ahead with diplomatic efforts to jump-start talks.
Team Trump negotiator Jason Greenblatt, who returned to Israel this week, opined that, "It is no secret that our approach to these discussions departs from some of the usual orthodoxy, for after years of well-meaning attempts to negotiate an end to this conflict, we have all learned some valuable lessons. Instead of working to impose a solution from the outside, we are giving the parties space to make their own decisions about their future."
Prior to Greenblatt's arrival, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu angered his right-wing base by postponing a meeting of the Civil Administration's Higher Planning Committee that would have approved the construction of Jewish homes in the West Bank; and admonished a meeting of residents of what Israelis call by the Biblical names "Judea" and "Samaria" not to embarrass "the friendly administration." He also reportedly briefed the security cabinet on prospective moves to enhance the Palestinian economy.
By comparison, Palestinian President Abbas has been busy applying for membership in international bodies, in contravention of reported promises made to Trump. Although the Palestinian leadership this month withdrew at the last minute a request to join the United Nations' World Tourism Organization, it succeeded on Wednesday in gaining acceptance into Interpol; this, on the heels of the submission by Palestinian rights groups of a 700-page document to the International Criminal Court calling for an immediate investigation into alleged war crimes committed by that high-ranking Israeli officials.
All of this, meanwhile, comes on the backdrop of Abbas' ongoing effort to reconcile with Hamas, in addition to his lack of condemnation of Tuesday's terror attack in Har Adar.
Given these circumstances "a breakthrough is currently not feasible," according to Dr. Sherman, "since the Palestinians are in no way amenable to a long-term settlement that is suitable for Israel." Nevertheless, he believes that the Israeli government has left itself open to external pressures by remaining static and not advancing its own policies vis-à-vis the Palestinians. "Trump will look for foreign policy successes where he can get them, and if the president sees that this is only possible within the framework of the peace process then he may press Israel."
In Brom's estimation, "Trump may ultimately succeed in re-starting talks, but it is doubtful that they will be fruitful. To some extent we are looking at the prospect of talks for the sake of talks." Rather, the focus should be on "gradual steps to create more trust between both sides, leading to a situation where effective negotiations may be possible."
Sadly, most experts agree that the status quo will remain in place for the foreseeable future; at least until such time that Israel makes hard strategic choices about Jewish communities in the West Bank, and when the murder of Jews is met with something other than silence in Ramallah and celebrations in Gaza City.