Last week’s breakdown in peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians was discouraging. Nevertheless, there are lessons to be learned.
Firstly, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has failed to inspire confidence in either side – or in anyone – that he can broker a deal. He has been completely ineffective, and it’s time Barack Obama found someone new to take on a mediator’s role. And while we’re on the subject of the U.S. president, he has yet to show he possesses the fortitude to orchestrate a serious peace process. He’s running out of time to do so.
Maybe I’m being too harsh on Kerry and Obama. After all, they have the misfortune of attempting to work with Mahmoud Abbas, a man who clearly doesn’t understand the concept of give and take. The Palestinian Authority president’s refusal to accept Israel as a Jewish state effectively ended these negotiations. Unless and until the Palestinians are willing to acknowledge the most basic principle of Israel’s existence – that it is the Jewish homeland – there is no peace deal to talk about. Quite the opposite: when Abbas signed on to 15 United Nations treaties and conventions last week, he signalled a renewed offensive against Israel. Why should anyone believe he is a genuine peace partner?
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his negotiating team don’t come out of this looking particularly strong, either. The decision to delay the release of Palestinian (and a few Israeli-Arab) prisoners in hopes of extracting a promise of further negotiations did not end well. Abbas’ rigidity on the Jewish-state issue and his refusal to commit to continuing talks beyond the end of April certainly put Israeli leaders in a tough spot – but reneging on the prisoner transfer ultimately gave Abbas an opening to apply to the UN.
What happens next is anyone’s guess. The Palestinians might play hardball and move the fight to the UN. Then again, given that they managed to wrench away more prisoners from Israel and attain greater status at the UN during these peace talks, all without giving up anything, perhaps they will think they have reason to come back to the table. A renewed terror campaign is less likely, but the possibility can’t be overlooked.
Meanwhile, Israeli negotiators have every reason to be frustrated by the unreasonable expectations being heaped on them from all sides. Still, they will have to find a way to move forward.
As for the Americans, Kerry and Obama have each signalled they are growing impatient with the two sides. Clearly, the feeling is mutual.
This much we do know: the majority of Israelis want to talk peace, while the majority of Palestinians don’t. According to the Israel Democracy Institute’s Peace Index, nearly 70 per cent of Israelis are in favour of peace talks (though just 28.5 per cent believe dialogue will lead to a peace deal anytime soon). Meanwhile, the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey’s latest figures show 55 per cent of Palestinians are against continued negotiations. Sixty-two per cent would reject a framework agreement that recognizes Israel as a Jewish state.
Peace can only be achieved when both sides truly want it. That is simply not the case. Not yet, anyway.