Israel-Palestine Peace Talks May Be Back, But Don't Hold Your Breath
Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports that Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas could be close to accepting a deal to restart negotiations with Israel, with the ultimate goal of creating two separate states in the disputed region. The proposal, for which United States Secretary of State John Kerry has spent a lot of time garnering support, would "include the resumption of talks on pre-1967 lines with land swaps that take into account the major settlement blocs in the West Bank... In return, Palestinians would recognise Israel as a Jewish state."
The announcement comes just days after the European Union tried to put pressure on the Jewish state to rethink its current policies by prohibiting the funding of any Israeli organization that works in settlements in the West Bank or East Jerusalem.
The Arab League endorsed the plan on Wednesday, but Abbas still has to convince other Palestinian leaders, not all of whom see any benefit in negotiating immediately now that international opinion seems to be shifting against Israeli settlement policy, to come to the table. And none of these talks aim to resolve any tensions around Hamas's continued firing of rockets into Israel from the Gaza Strip. In fact, Secretary Kerry's proposal seems to ignore the Gaza Strip altogether. For now, they have yet to make a decision.
Secretary Kerry's plan will be a hard sell for the Israeli government as well. Many right-wing members of President Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition, including Naftali Bennet's Habayit Hayehudi party, have promised to leave the current government should Netanyahu accept the proposed preconditions. Negotiating based on Israel's borders prior to the 1967 Six-Day War implies the division of Jerusalem, which is unacceptable to hard-liners in the current government: "Jerusalem, our capital, is not up, and will never be up, for negotiation."
The plan will not meet with unanimous approval in the United States either. Plenty of pro-Israel groups will likely condemn any proposal that could divide Jerusalem, and it could add fuel to the fire for those who believe President Barack Obama's efforts to support Israel have been lacking.
The Kerry plan requires deep sacrifices from both parties. Indeed, the proposal could be so unpalatable to both sides that neither sees any political gain. For now, neither Netanyahu nor Abbas seems to have sufficient control of his allies to guarantee these talks will even take place.
The coming days will be a moment of reckoning for both Netanyahu and Abbas. The former must decide whether to risk the stability of his governing coalition for a chance at peace. The latter must consider whether recognizing Israel as a Jewish state will cost him his already questionable legitimacy among average Palestinians. They must both now, as President Obama put it when discussing health care reform in 2010, decide whether or not to "answer the call of history." No one will be completely happy with the outcome of any negotiations. But can anyone who truly desires peace in the Middle East be happy with the current state of the region?