As the deadline of April 29 for agreeing on the core elements of future agreement on Middle East peace draws closer, the chances of resuming bilateral negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians seem more remote. The bilateral talks started since July under the auspices of the U.S. administration, have recently hit snags as blame game continues between the concerned parties to the peace negotiations.
The concerted efforts of the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to keep the negotiating process alive amid growing tensions between the Palestinian Authority and Israel notwithstanding, indications are that an agreement on core principles for guiding the future peace deal is less likely.
The parties are busy blaming the other partner for disruption and this may be their tact to convince their own constituencies about their sincerity to negotiate in good faith. The latest episode impeding talks is the allegation of the Palestinians that Israel has not fulfilled its promise of releasing the Palestinian prisoners as agreed earlier. Remaining stick to this accusation the President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas has decided to go ahead with their plan of joining 15 international conventions and treaties.
Reacting sharply to the above Palestinian move the Israeli government has warned of imposing further sanctions against the Palestinian Authority and has also threatened to stop releasing the Palestinian prisoners, a process which is already delayed.
Some commentators, in view of current stalemate in negotiations, have said, as reported in the New York Times, by Mark Lander under the title “Mideast Frustration, the Sequel” that the Middle East peace process has become a diplomatic drama playing on an endless loop. The same reporter has quoted John Kerry, as saying ‘both sides (Israel and Palestinians) have bore responsibility for unhelpful actions, the precipitating event was Israel’s announcement of 700 new housing units for Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem.” Even the chief Israeli negotiator and a member of current cabinet Tzipi Livni has criticized her housing minister for non cooperation in the peace process by making inappropriate announcement of new construction in the occupied Arab land.
Against the background of eroding trust between the Israeli and the Palestinian negotiators in the recent times, Jodi Rudroren, a columnist for the New York Times in his report titled “Keeping Peace Talks Alive Has Become an End in Itself” has said,” Keeping the Palestinian track alive helps Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies in U.S. Congress from taking steps that could threaten diplomacy with Tehran.”
The reason why active diplomacy with Iran is so crucial to U.S. national interests is better explained by Thomas L. Friedman in his most recent op-ed column in the New York Times (Sunday Review, April 6, 2014). Friedman has said that by supporting Palestinian militants dedicated to destroying any peace process, Tehran hopes to keep Israel permanently mired in the West Bank (the Occupied Territory) and occupying 2.7 million Palestinians, denying them any statehood and preventing the emergence of a Palestinian state that might recognize Israel and live in peace alongside it.
The environment in peace talks has been poisoned by the series of accusation leveled by the Israeli side against the U.S. secretary of State John Kerry, who during his most recent testimony before the American Senate Relations Committee, has detailed the chain of events that led to the verge of breakdown of peace negotiations.
Isabel Kershnev of New York Times has said that Israel has been deeply disappointed by John Kerry’s remarks on peace talks. Kerry seems to have put the primary blame on Israel for the crisis in the American-brokered Middle East peace process. Israel has compared the current attitude of the Palestinians to that of 1967 in the immediate aftermath of Six-Day Arab-Israeli War, when the Israeli side annexed a large swathe of Arab territories including East Jerusalem, where illegal construction is disappointedly continuing.
In the famous Khartoum Resolution (1967) adopted by the Arab Heads of State certain principles were embraced, which in Israel’s opinion, were guided by the rejectionist policy vis-à-vis Israel. Then three Nos were highlighted viz no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel and no negotiation with Israel.
In a recent opinion page of New York Times entitled “The Limits of Special ‘K’, columnist Roger Cohen, has said that neither side is serious today about a two-state peace settlement after nine months of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiation in which John Kerry has invested significant resources shuttling between Washington and the Middle East several times.
Roger Cohen describes the present stalemate in peace talks as pathetic as more squabbling and horse-trading have been more clearly visible. It is difficult to disagree with him when he says that the gap between the maximum potential Israeli offer and minimum Palestinian demand has kept growing. The decision of the Israeli government to move forward with plans to build 700 new settlement units in Jerusalem reflects that the present coalition government of Netanyahu is determined not to surrender an inch of land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. This is because of estrangement fueled by 66-year-old conflict and 47-year-old Israeli occupation of the West Bank.
Surprisingly, Israel has been insisting on Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state whereas it has not demanded the same of either Egypt or Jordan, the two Arab nations with whom it has signed peace treaties. This has reasonably infuriated the Palestine Authority at a time when Israel has also failed to meet its deadline of March last to release the fourth group of prisoners as promised earlier.
Worryingly, the Obama administration is domestically constrained to show the courage to state again what the president said in 2011 that any territorial settlement should be based on the 1967 lines with agreed land swaps, which is only possible foundation for realizing two-nation concept. Under the two-state framework Israelis and the Palestinians live alongside in peace, security, freedom, and prosperity. Considering this, one wonders whether the American-brokered Israeli-Palestinian peace process has become a diplomatic drama.