To the surprise of no one, with the possible exception of Secretary of State John Kerry, negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority are on the verge of collapse. Eight months of talks have resulted in less than nothing.
Peace talks have failed before, but this round has blown up in epic fashion over the last week.
Israel had promised to release a last group of 26 Palestinian prisoners. That release, scheduled for March 29, has been held up in part because Israeli officials believe, with some justification, that the Palestinian side will merely pocket its gains and walk out.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas responded by signing more than a dozen international conventions, including the Geneva Convention. It was an apparent return to an earlier Palestinian strategy of seeking international recognition of statehood outside the framework of bilateral talks.
Though arguably a symbolic step, this action jeopardizes future talks by “internationalizing” the conflict, bringing the U.N. deeper into the briar patch of the negotiations.
And we all know how even-handed the United Nations is when it comes to Israel.
In an effort to keep the talks going, Kerry has floated incentives. For the Palestinians, the prisoner release and a partial freeze on Israeli construction in East Jerusalem and the West Bank; for Israel, most intriguingly, the release of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard from a North Carolina prison.
Pollard has languished behind bars for almost 30 years. The proposed release would take place, appropriately enough, in time for Passover, which begins on April 14.
While we would rejoice in his freedom, it should not come about this way. Pollard should be released regardless of the status of peace talks. He has paid for his crime — some might say he has paid overmuch — and it is high time he is returned to society. Using him as a bargaining chip, one that can be withdrawn on a whim, would heap cruelty upon cruelty.
Now that his freedom has been floated, he must be released.
As for the talks, Kerry’s good intentions always outstripped the willingness of the parties. His negotiating style, which often included hyped-up public statements and veiled threats, did not help.
For those who desire a two-state solution, some hope remains. The talks are scheduled to last until an April 29 deadline, and there may be some productive backroom discussions taking place, despite the public bluster and chest thumping.
But Kerry is right about one thing. Time is running out on a negotiated two-state solution. After that, we may enter uncharted territory, and there resides the devil we don’t know.