Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Slow and Steady

by Zalman Shoval

Martin Indyk, the U.S. administration's special envoy to Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, landed back in Washington last week and quickly declared that Israel was to blame for the diplomatic failure. He reiterated the Palestinian claim that Israeli construction plans and nullification of the fourth phase of the prisoner release were the cause for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' decision, contrary to all prior understandings, to turn and apply to 15 international bodies. Indyk's comments came despite Palestinian confirmation, based on documents acquired by the press, that they made their decision in advance of said Israeli decisions.
Supposedly to balance his accusation, Indyk added that both sides "do not feel the pressing need to make the gut-wrenching compromises necessary to achieve peace," but forgot to mention that while Israel is prepared to concede large parts of its territory, the Palestinians refused to concede on any one of their demands. One can wonder why Indyk ignored the facts when reaching his conclusion (which, incidentally, is not the same conclusion reached by many other American officials involved in the talks), but it is more important now to focus on the reality of the situation as it stands, or could become in the coming months. U.S. President Barack Obama spoke of a hiatus, but, as evidenced from National Security Adviser Susan Rice's visit here last week, we can assume it won't last long.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in the past that it was time for the sides to "take inventory," and he is right. On the Palestinian side, the picture has become clearer: Abbas' "reconciliation" deal with Hamas is perhaps the first stage in integrating the Islamist group into the Palestine Liberation Organization, and testifies to Abbas' inclination to continue the struggle against Israel rather than come to terms with it.
In the meantime, the PA president has repeated his preconditions for renewing negotiations: a complete construction freeze for three months (in this context, the Palestinians do not distinguish between Jerusalem and the settlement blocs and other areas of Judea and Samaria), and completion of the fourth phase of releasing terrorists. However, even if Israel would agree to these demands -- even if only to test the Palestinians -- there is no indication that the Palestinians intend to abandon their present strategic course of bypassing any real negotiations by taking unilateral steps via the United Nations and other international bodies. Past experience teaches us that any positive Israeli or American response to their demands only leads to the Palestinians adding further conditions.
Coincidentally, it is quite possible that in the coming weeks it will actually be Israel offering proposals for "kick-starting" negotiations, but for there to be any chance of pulling the diplomatic wagon out of the mud of Palestinian rejectionism, the U.S. will have to employ different methods.
Firstly, the serious ramifications for pursuing his current course of action must be clarified to Abbas. As we have seen, when Washington wants to apply pressure, it provides results. More importantly, the Americans need to re-examine many of their basic assumptions. Kerry at the time delineated a rigid time frame for reaching a comprehensive agreement to resolve the conflict entirely, but even if he had doubled or tripled this allotted time frame the results would not have been any different. Not only is there no concrete possibility of bridging the fundamental gaps on the core issues of the conflict, but as long as the Palestinians believe that time is on their side (and comments like Indyk's only encourage them to maintain this belief), they will continue to drag their feet and make a mockery of American efforts.
The Talmudic idiom "if you have seized a lot, you have not seized" also applies to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A comprehensive deal to "end the conflict," which Washington declared as the immediate objective and which we would also prefer in principle, is simply not within reach.
The necessary conclusion, therefore, is that to make progress we must borrow from the wisdom of Winston Churchill: "Be quick, but don't be in a hurry" -- and outline a strategy of partial arrangements on issues such as security, economic cooperation, the establishment of more effective and fair governmental and judicial institutions for the Palestinians -- without repeating the mistake of hitching a wagon with no wheels before the horse.
The Palestinians must be told: "While you are not required to give up on your dreams of being independent, if you continue pursuing your current course, you will simply never attain them."

Zalman Shoval


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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