Monday, May 15, 2017

Israel-Palestine: the real reason there’s still no peace by Nathan Thrall

Scattered over the land between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean Sea lie the remnants of failed peace plans, international summits, secret negotiations, UN resolutions and state-building programmes, most of them designed to partition this long-contested territory into two independent states, Israel and Palestine. The collapse of these initiatives has been as predictable as the confidence with which US presidents have launched new ones, and the current administration is no exception.

In the quarter century since Israelis and Palestinians first started negotiating under US auspices in 1991, there has been no shortage of explanations for why each particular round of talks failed. The rationalisations appear and reappear in the speeches of presidents, the reports of thinktanks and the memoirs of former officials and negotiators: bad timing; artificial deadlines; insufficient preparation; scant attention from the US president; want of support from regional states; inadequate confidence-building measures; coalition politics; or leaders devoid of courage.

Among the most common refrains are that extremists were allowed to set the agenda and there was a neglect of bottom-up economic development and state-building. And then there are those who point at negative messaging, insurmountable scepticism or the absence of personal chemistry (a particularly fanciful explanation for anyone who has witnessed the warm familiarity of Palestinian and Israeli negotiators as they reunite in luxury hotels and reminisce about old jokes and ex-comrades over breakfast buffets and post-meeting toasts). If none of the above works, there is always the worst cliche of them all – lack of trust. Postmortem accounts vary in their apportioning of blame. But nearly all of them share a deep-seated belief that both societies desire a two-state agreement, and therefore need only the right conditions – together with a bit of nudging, trust-building and perhaps a few more positive inducements – to take the final step.
In this view, the Oslo accords of the mid-1990s would have led to peace had it not been for the tragic assassination of the Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995. The 1998 Wye River Memorandum and its commitment to further Israeli withdrawals from the West Bank would have been implemented if only the Israeli Labor party had joined Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition to back the agreement. The Camp David summit in July 2000 would have succeeded if the US had been less sensitive to Israeli domestic concerns, insisted on a written Israeli proposal, consulted the Arab states at an earlier phase, and taken the more firm and balanced position adopted half a year later, in December 2000, when President Clinton outlined parameters for an agreement. Both parties could have accepted the Clinton parameters with only minimal reservations had the proposal not been presented so fleetingly, as a one-time offer that would disappear when Clinton stepped down less than a month later. 

The negotiations in Taba, Egypt, in January 2001 were on the brink of agreement but failed because time ran out, with Clinton just out of office, and Ehud Barak facing almost certain electoral defeat to Ariel Sharon. The two major peace plans of 2003 – the US-sponsored road map to peace in the Middle East and the unofficial Geneva accord – could have been embraced had it not been for a bloody intifada and a hawkish Likud prime minister in power.

And on it goes: direct negotiations between the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and Netanyahu in 2010 could have lasted more than 13 days if only Israel had agreed to temporarily halt construction of some illegal settlements in exchange for an extra $3bn package from the United States. Several years of secret back-channel negotiations between the envoys of Netanyahu and Abbas could have made history if only they hadn’t been forced to conclude prematurely in late 2013, because of an artificial deadline imposed by separate talks led by secretary of state John Kerry. And, finally, the Kerry negotiations of 2013–2014 could have led to a framework agreement if the secretary of state had spent even a sixth as much time negotiating the text with the Palestinians as he did with the Israelis, and if he hadn’t made inconsistent promises to the two sides regarding the guidelines for the talks, the release of Palestinian prisoners, curtailing Israeli settlement construction, and the presence of US mediators in the negotiating room.

Each of these rounds of diplomacy began with vows to succeed where predecessors had failed. Each included affirmations of the urgency of peace or warnings of the closing window, perhaps even the last chance, for a two-state solution. Each ended with a list of tactical mistakes and unforeseen developments that resulted in failure. And, just as surely, each neglected to offer the most logical and parsimonious explanation for failure: no agreement was reached because at least one of the parties preferred to maintain the impasse... read more:
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/may/16/the-real-reason-the-israel-palestine-peace-process-always-fails