Friday, August 14, 2015

Challenges await Israeli diplomacy - Zalman Shoval

by Zalman Shoval

"Gone are the hopes of an actual agreement on final status. But that doesn't mean Obama or his secretary of state have abandoned the idea altogether … even if progress means more tension with Israel's prime minister."

Israel will have to pass two crucial tests in the coming weeks, both of which are expected to impact its relations with the United States. The first test involves the Iranian nuclear deal. Its make or break point is several weeks away. The other test, involving the Palestinians, will immediately follow. 

Is U.S. President Barack Obama willing to let another failure on the Palestinian front eclipse what he considers his signature foreign policy accomplishment -- the Iran nuclear deal? Opinions vary. Aaron David Miller, an adviser on the Middle East in multiple administrations, recently penned an article in the Washington Post in which he elaborated on Obama's state of mind. 

"The president has certainly sobered [on the peace process] ... and lowered his expectations," he wrote. 

"Gone are the hopes of an actual agreement on final status. But that doesn't mean Obama or his secretary of state have abandoned the idea altogether … even if progress means more tension with Israel's prime minister." 

Miller's article dovetails with the rhetoric of American and European officials. Another related development involves the French government's efforts to jump-start the peace talks, led by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. The French initiative came about in phases. Initially, Fabius declared that France would draft a new U.N. Security Council resolution to replace Resolution 242 from 1967. That resolution, which was adopted in the wake of the Six-Day War, stopped short of calling for a full Israeli withdrawal from the land it had captured and made any such withdrawal contingent on establishing secure borders. 

It is safe to assume that France has coordinated its moves with the United States, at least when it comes the key provisions of the plan. France knows full well that without Washington's blessing, the draft resolution will be derailed by a American veto (or a veto threat) like the ones that came before it. The next phase was Fabius' visit to Jerusalem and Ramallah. During that visit, Israel said it was against plans that dictate the terms of a deal. The French plan, Israel said, was contrary to the principle of holding direct talks with no preconditions because it considered the creation of a Palestinian state within 18 months a done deal. 

The Palestinians were more elaborate in their reaction to the plan -- officials in Ramallah were rather satisfied with the general spirit of the plan, interpreting it as a victory for their strategy of gaining independence through the U.N. while consistently refusing to engage in meaningful talks with Israel. The Palestinians, true to their negotiating tactics, said they wanted make Israel pay a heavier price and introduced the following demands: a complete withdrawal to the pre-1967 borders with no land swaps; all of east Jerusalem to be part of the future Palestinian state; the upgrade of U.N. General Assembly Resolution 194 on refugees into a binding Security Council resolution; a construction moratorium in every Israeli community in Judea and Samaria; and the release all Palestinians held in Israeli jails. They also said they were categorically opposed to recognizing Israel as a Jewish state and would not demilitarize the future Palestinian state. 

A scenario in which France would accept the Palestinians' demands is far-fetched. That said, it might agree to ambiguous language that would serve their cause. 

Washington, it seems, has yet to make its mind up on the French initiative, nor has it insisted on following the traditional U.S. template for the peace process: direct talks, with no preconditions. 

Israeli diplomacy will have to grapple with these issues in the coming weeks.

Zalman Shoval


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

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