Stalling tactics, gamesmanship slow progress of peace talksby douglas m. bloomfield
|Follow j. on||and|
John Kerry’s first stop after signing the Syrian chemical weapons deal with the Russians was Jerusalem, to brief Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the agreement and to return attention to the secretary of state’s top priority in the region: Israeli-Palestinian peace.
A recent flood of Palestinian leaks in violation of Kerry’s blackout rule threatened to sink the talks before they got much beyond the starting gate. The Israelis have been — uncharacteristically — leak free, honoring the secretary’s insistence that the United States be the only source of news regarding the talks, while Palestinian leaders, on and off the record, have been complaining bitterly about Israel.
The Israelis complained to the U.S. envoy, Martin Indyk, about the Palestinian leaks, though they seem to have slowed since Kerry met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in London last week.
The Palestinians are complaining that they want talks to focus first on boundaries, starting with Israeli maps of where it sees future borders; the Israelis insist that would be premature without agreement on security arrangements. The Palestinians claim they have a written commitment from the United States that the Israelis have agreed on the 1967 lines as the basis for discussions, something Washington and Jerusalem deny.
The gist of Palestinian complaints is that Israel is dragging its feet and is solely to blame for the lack of progress. Netanyahu, they say, wants to retain 40 percent of the West Bank under a long-term interim arrangement with a provisional government, temporary borders, limited removal of settlements, an Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley and no compromise on Jerusalem.
That is not entirely inconsistent with positions Netanyahu has taken in the past, but neither Israel nor the United States would confirm it has been tabled in their talks. If that is indeed his position today, all parties are wasting their time and should call the whole thing off because those terms are unacceptable to the Palestinians, the United States and quite possibly much of the Israeli public.
Abbas has said those terms are totally unacceptable and insists that a final-status agreement be reached in the nine months Kerry has said the talks should take.
The Israeli camp reportedly is split, with chief negotiator Tzipi Livni pressing for a final-status deal by the middle of next year while Netanyahu’s personal envoy and Livni’s minder, Yitzhak Molcho, apparently is pushing the interim proposal.
Each side is accusing the other of stalling.
The Palestinians point the finger at the Jerusalem government, saying that as the stronger party Israel feels it can wait the Palestinians out, maintain the status quo, demand terms Netanyahu knows are unacceptable and use the time to build more settlements to make it harder to create a Palestinian state. They say Netanyahu wants to play for time until the Palestinians walk out, so he can say he made the effort but they weren’t serious.
The Israelis say it is the Palestinians who are creating obstacles because they’re not really interested in negotiating with the Israelis; they want Washington to get so frustrated with the lack of progress that it will step in and negotiate on their behalf and offer its own peace plan and force Israel to accept it. The Palestinians believe Obama’s and Kerry’s views of the outcome are closer to their own, and that’s why they want Indyk to join them at the table, something the Israelis continue to resist.
Both sides have some cards to play in this game.
The Palestinians threaten to pursue action against Israel in international organizations and accuse it of war crimes in the World Court, charging that settlement construction is a form of ethnic cleansing. But Abbas is unlikely to walk out before the full nine months because that would halt the staged release of prisoners held by Israel. He also needs to stay in the good graces of Washington, not only politically but financially since his economy’s outlook is “dim,” according to the IMF, and his usual donors are overextended helping in more urgent crises in Egypt and Syria.
One option for Netanyahu is unilateral withdrawal from most of the West Bank, much as then-PM Ariel Sharon did in Gaza in 2005. Hamas may have come to power in Gaza, but all in all, say advocates of the approach, it has been successful for Israel, which faces a minimal threat and no longer has to patrol those mean streets and be responsible for its inhabitants.
Netanyahu can’t afford a breach with Washington because he is looking to it for leadership in blocking Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Netanyahu also picked up some IOUs in his (and the Jewish community’s) backing of Obama’s ill-fated and inept bid for approval of a military strike against Syria. Israel also has much more political clout in Washington than the PA and can expect strong backing, especially on Capitol Hill, in a split with the Palestinians.
The peace talks will go on, and Kerry, who has much more enthusiasm for the enterprise than Netanyahu and Abbas, may have to return for additional pep talks. But nothing is likely to happen until both parties quit stalling and get a lot closer to making a serious and realistic peace deal.
Douglas M. Bloomfield is the president of Bloomfield Associates Inc., a Washington, D.C., lobbying and consulting firm. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.
Be the first to comment!