“There is one kind of prison where the man is behind bars, and everything that he desires is outside; and there is another where the things are behind the bars, and the man is outside.” The Jungle
So recently I haven’t done anything interesting so I won’t bore you with mundane details. Instead, I’ll write about the news that seems to dominate what I’m reading online in American newspapers: the declared resumption of the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
The Palestinian side agreed on Friday to come to the talks based on a statement of principles issued by the Quartet (U.S., U.K., Russia, EU), which calls on the parties to resolve “all final status issues,” like Jerusalem and refugees. It also calls for “a settlement that ends the occupation which began in 1967 and results in the emergence of an independent, democratic, and viable Palestinian state.” Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, however, has not confirmed these Quartet principles in agreeing to join the Washington talks. Instead, Netanyahu is said to have explicitly rejected the language of the Quartet statement.
One side is responding to one letter of invitation; the other is answering to a slightly different request. It has gotten both sides to the table, but it emphasizes the enormous differences that exist between the two sides, and that could crash the talks.
People are pessimistic, honestly. There is a definite lack of enthusiasm with which both Palestinians and Israelis approach the talks. There is not even a modicum of trust, which severely restricts the ability of negotiators on both sides to make concessions. There is really no sign that Palestinians are willing or able to accept less than a viable, territorially united state in the West Bank, including a capital in East Jerusalem and some political solution on the refugee issue. There is no sign that Israel’s government is willing to accept anything more than a symbolic Palestinian “state” consisting of disconnected autonomous areas, with Israel in full control still of the borders, air space, water supplies, etc. Prime Minister Netanyahu has stated clearly that this is what he means by a “two-state solution,” and has declared often that Israel intends to keep all of Jerusalem and a long-term military presence in the Jordan River valley.
There are roughly 500,000 Israeli Jews living outside the 1967 borders, and I can’t imagine any Israeli government evacuating a significant fraction of them. Even if Netanyahu wanted to be more forthcoming, his coalition would not allow him to make any meaningful concessions. There is also the question of whether the moratorium on Israeli settlement-building, which is set to expire in late September, will be extended. American officials are clearly hoping that once talks have started, Netanyahu won’t want to resume settlement activity [aka won’t want the political disaster of being seen as undermining the US-led peace effort].
And lastly, the American government is just not willing to put meaningful pressure on Israel. They can twist Mahmoud Abbas’ arm as far as it can go (which is why he’s agreed to the talks, even as Israel continues to take pieces of the territory of a future Palestinian state), but the US has long abandoned the pretense of bringing even modest pressure on Israel.
So there is definite pessimism surrounding these talks, which most major newspapers have missed, in my opinion. There are some good analysis pieces which I’m linking to below.
- Netanyahu: Peace ‘Difficult But Possible’ (online.wsj.com)
- What it took to get Israelis and Palestinians to agree to talks (washingtonpost.com)
- The “Peace Process” is Still Going Nowhere (foreignpolicy.com)
- The Daunting Prospects for Mideast Talks (cfr.org)
- In letter to Obama, Palestinians say new peace talks will end if Israel renews settlement work (foxnews.com)
- Netanyahu: Security before borders (aljazeera.net)