Best Thing We Can Do For Israel-Palestine Peace Talks Is Not Pay Attention
Currently, there is much speculation over whether the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks will actually result in a two-state agreement. Many have received Secretary of State John Kerry’s announcement with low expectation for a breakthrough. The Israeli daily paper Ma’ariv described its country’s reaction to the talks as “cautious pessimism.” The coined term might as well also define U.S. and Palestinian sentiments throughout the process, and for a valid reason. Each country’s citizens have heard a call for ending “decades of confrontation and conflict” four times in the past 10 years. It was just in August 2010 that Israel and Palestine engaged in similar peace talks brought upon by then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Once again, the negotiations ended three months after the announcement was made.
While it’s extremely difficult to predict the outcome of the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, there is one factor that can ease or disrupt the negotiators flow of discussion. Less focus on the process from the media can help create a more authentic debate between diplomats.
Each country has the capacity to offer its own political agenda without much public scrutiny. This does not suggest that the media is the only indicator of whether the peace talk will continue; there are obviously a variety of differences and deeply rooted issues between the two countries that have hindered its success for compromise in the past. But when it has succeeded, it has done so without media influence.
In 1993, Israeli and Palestinian diplomats met at a secluded forest near Oslo, Norway. Without the international media knowing, the groups conducted 14 secret meetings, which ultimately resulted in the Oslo Agreement of 1993. It is reported that since diplomats were living in the same location, other unofficial meetings occurred.
Although the Annapolis talks ended in 2008 due to increased Israeli military presence in Gaza, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas were able to negotiate a plan in seclusion that resulted in the most generous Israeli territorial offering. While Palestine ended up refusing the proposal, CNN reports that they were able to exchange ideas extensively due to the “low expectations” of the Palestinian and Israeli publics at the time. Without a strong public opinion on the issue, the leaders were able to present their own political objectives at the table.
So far, Kerry has emulated his predecessors by refraining from attracting the press attention. As the elected commentator to the press by Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, Kerry has declined to comment on any updates throughout the expected nine-month process. By doing so, he has not made the media dependent on following each detail, which coincidentally leads to a decrease “in the power of public opinion and its pressure on politicians during international crises.”
This does not suggest that the media is completely silent about the peace talk’s repercussions. For example, news channels covered Israel’s announcement to release 104 Palestinian refugees in the next couple months. Yet, without any statements following each meeting, the media wire has no fuel to track each meeting. Rather, it focuses on other Middle Eastern developments since the region is still considered newsworthy in the U.S. Much of the attention is currently placed on Iran's President Hassan Rouhani’s decision to discuss Iran’s nuclear program with foreign countries. With more pundits available to comment on Iran and also the developments in Egypt, more media coverage will focus on these stories in the weeks to come.
Similarly, Israeli and Palestinian news wires, including Arutz Sheva 7 and Al-Aqsa TV, are focusing their attention on the crisis in Egypt. While both stations and Al Jazeera Arabic are covering the negotiations more than the U.S. broadcast channels are, it is still under the radar in comparison to reports about Egypt and Syria. As long as the media from Israel, Palestine, and the U.S. continue to highlight other foreign issues, overshadowing the peace talks could lead to a detailed resolution between two countries that are long overdue for compromise.