Israelis, Palestinians Cautiously Restart Peace Talks

After four years of being stalled, Israeli-Palestinian negotiations have started up again with the usual mix of optimism and pessimism.

al-monitor US Secretary of State John Kerry steps out of a helicopter upon his arrival at Amman's Queen Alia International Airport after meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, July 19, 2013. Photo by REUTERS/Mandel Ngan.

Topics covered

non-member observer status, peace, palestinian, benjamin netanyahu

Jul 30, 2013

The Israeli-Palestinian negotiations that kicked off yesterday, July 29, can best be described as forced. The negotiations take place after almost four years of a stalemate, following the marathon round of talks launched 20 years ago with the signing of the Oslo Accords.

Although negotiations between the two sides have resumed, no one really knows how this happened, especially since the Palestinian negotiating team has been adamant on a return to the border talks based on the 1967 line, and ending all forms of settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem within a specific time frame, so that negotiations would not remain “open-ended.”

It should also be noted that the Israeli government’s decision to return to the table was somehow forced, after 13 out of 22 ministers voted for the decision (seven were against, with two abstentions). It has been also decided to send Israeli Minister of Justice Tzipi Livni and chief Israeli negotiator Yitzhak Molcho to meet with chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and Mohammed Ishtyeh in Washington.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu explicitly declared his commitment to conduct a referendum on any solution that could be reached with the Palestinian side as a result of these negotiations. This referendum would come in handy should these talks have a happy ending, which means Israeli withdrawal from the occupied lands in the West Bank, Jerusalem and the occupied Syrian Golan.

Netanyahu also expressed his feelings of grief and sorrow toward the bereaved families. Meanwhile, on the Palestinian side, one can sense apathy prevailing among popular and political circles. They believe that the framework for talks is not favorable to the Palestinian side, because negotiations are not being held within the same context they previously agreed upon. This is not to mention that regional conditions are not likely to tip the balance in favor of Palestinians, or even advance their conditions.

Although the Palestinian side does not usually have any difficulty approving decisions through governing bodies (the Central Committee of Fatah, or the organization’s executive branch), this sense of indifference could turn into rejection and protests on the ground, especially since the majority of Palestinians have preferred internal reconciliation to the resumption of negotiations. They would rather have the negotiations held in light of a strong popular resistance — even if peaceful — against the occupation forces.

Thus, neither side appears upbeat about the renewed talks, whether at the political or popular level.

The US sponsor, on the other hand, seems to be more enthusiastic about resuming negotiations. From our perspective, the American broker believes that going back to the negotiating table is a breakthrough after almost four years of stagnation which lasted throughout US President Barack Obama’s first term. The US administration is also betting that the preliminary talks will serve as a road map to set the wheels of the negotiation in motion, according to Jen Psaki, spokeswoman for the US State Department.

Given that all involved parties are pessimistic about reaching a fast solution within nine months as a result of these negotiations, it seems that both sides have agreed that, during the negotiations, Israel will stop settlements while Palestinians will refrain from petitioning international organizations.

No one knows, perhaps the world will be surprised by a final solution. Nevertheless, everyone knows that each side is betting on regional developments to serve its own interests, and is well aware that a final solution does not even begin to advance the pledges made to their people.

Thus, negotiations are likely to drag on, albeit in the form of public relations, to ward off the worst-case scenario, which would be the eruption of a “Palestinian Spring.” This would turn the political and diplomatic table upside down.

Who knows, maybe the peoples of the region will follow in the Egyptians’ footsteps by exercising direct democracy. The Palestinian and Israeli youth could join hands to establish “a just and fair solution,” one that could dispel the historical failures of their leaderships.

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