Robert M. Danin

Middle East Matters

Danin analyzes critical developments and U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.

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Resumed Israeli-Palestinian Talks Are Risky But Necessary

by Robert M. Danin
January 1, 2012

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat speaks during a news conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah on January 2, 2012. Israeli and Palestinian negotiators will meet this week after more than a year of deadlock in peacemaking (Mohamad Torokman/Courtesy Reuters).

That Israeli and Palestinian negotiators will meet with Jordanian and Quartet representatives on Tuesday is good news. Despite serious mutual distrust and the strong likelihood that nothing significant will emerge that day, both Israelis and Palestinians recognize that, as Winston Churchill once quipped, “To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war.”

That the two sides see it as in their interests to talk right now is important. With Syria burning, Iran saber rattling, and Egypt mired in internal unrest, regional uncertainties could have propelled Israelis and Palestinians to continue waiting to see how things pan out.

Both Palestinians and Israelis recognize that time will not make it easier to resume negotiations. To wait much longer could make it impossible for the two sides to reengage. Conclusion of a Hamas-Fatah reconciliation deal would likely prevent Mahmoud Abbas and the Israelis from returning to the table. Reengaging in talks right now suggests that Abbas would like to at least explore whether a genuine negotiating option might exist. It is also difficult for him to say no to Jordan’s king Abdullah, the last remaining figure willing to actively support engagement with the Israelis right now.

Israel has maintained that it seeks negotiations without preconditions. However, the Quartet has called on both sides to produce serious proposals for a final peace settlement on borders and security. For Netanyahu to lay down a map now of Israel’s future border with Palestine—just weeks before his Likud Party holds a snap primary election—is virtual political suicide, given that his internal challenges come entirely from his right, not his left.

Resuming talks right now, while desirable, inadvertently makes the situation on the ground riskier. Having just visited Jordan, Israel and the West Bank, it is clear that all parties feel considerable anxiety about taking such a step. Abbas is returning to talks without attaining his longstanding demand that negotiations resume with an Israeli settlement freeze. Unless he can demonstrate quickly that talks produce tangible benefits for the Palestinians, he will feel compelled to break them off. Doing so would then probably add momentum to Fatah-Hamas reconciliation, making the prospects for later Israeli-Palestinian talks all the more difficult. Failure could easily lead Palestinian militants to renew violence, arguing that talks do not produce results. Israelis see these risks, and are not convinced that the steps they could adopt would alter this Palestinian dynamic. Yet they do not want to be blamed for not returning to the table, nor, like the Palestinians, do they wish to say no to the Jordanians.

This means that the parties, having decided to resume discussions, must find a way to keep them themselves there. This will require serious diplomatic creativity, outside support, and political courage. Ultimately, it will require both Israeli prime minister Netanyahu and Palestinian president Abbas to take steps that may be unpopular with their core domestic political base, but are supported by their larger political constituents, the majority of whom I firmly believe still want negotiations to succeed.

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  • Posted by Matt

    It was always a tactic, he got his settlement freeze, did not want it, then resumes talks at the end and ask for what he did not want to continue. So no talks then off to the UN, Mazen is trying to isolate the US. The difference is the butcher Assad who has killed thousands and Palestinians, supported at the UN by Russia and China. The PLO support Assad, Hamas is part of the PLO, Assad kills Palestinians. So the PLO cannot isolate the US because the counter narrative is too strong, they have no credibility. So after Syria it is all different PR wise.

    During Cast Lead Mubarak sealed the border so it was a closed city, due to regime change in Egypt the Government will not be able to do that again and there will be another operation because of terror. So they can be pushed out into Sinai, this fits with the new ROE, which is the same as the old one used during Cast Lead.

    Either we put them in tent cities or let them flee a cross the border. During Cast Lead we wanted to bomb the border fence to allow this to happen, but the peace treaty, we could not so we were stuck with a closed city and the inhabitants. We also wanted the Philly corridor too political costly.

    Next time the operation will have a higher intensity Operation South, once they flee they will not be allowed back in and the border will be sealed. It is highly likely that almost all 1.6 million will flee if the objective to crush Hamas and the time period of the operation.

    If Iran does get the bomb, then the Palestinians in the West Bank will be used as human shields, with settlements spread between the population. Now I know Assad has killed Palestinians but it is still a viable tactic to prevent a nuclear strike.

    That leaves us with a hostile Egypt under the control of radicals. Well Israel can build a rival canal to the Suez from the Med to Aqaba inside the Security fence. And allow free passage that would take $400 million per month revenue from the government. They will kill tourism themselves and lose revenue. Let chaos reign.

    Once again the peace treaty prevented this and there was no need. The canal also acts as a defensive moat. Israel was going to build a tunnel from Gaza to the West Bank, this costs around the same as the canal and the tunnel was also free passage. This will limit international condemnation against Israel free use.

    There also talk of build islands off the coast of Israel in the Med, similar to Dubai, so the removed earth can be used instead of solely dreading.

    Just as with Egypt if Jordan falls so will the treaties, giving the Golan’s back would have proven to be a mistake, in exchange for a treaty which would not be honored. The same thing will occur with the Palestinians, this is not NI, this is the Middle East.

    Jordan may not survive the Arab Spring and the MB will takeover. Which is why the regime is reaching out to Hamas, Jordan may regret that King Hussein forced for the antidote when this is all over.

    Out of all this chaos all I can see is positives for Israel, or at the very least the status quo.

    You can make peace with a dictator but not his people and a dictator will always fall in the end and so will peace.

    I supported a two state solution, but you must always have a fallback option, the Palestinians see the Arab Spring as an opportunity to final be able to force Israeli’s out of Israel. Egypt see this as the same.

    I see it as another opportunity of maintaining security via other methods. The goal was always the same via the peace process or other means maintain security.

    It was not what I would have preferred but the enemy gets a vote.

    Just my personal opinion expressed here.

  • Posted by Richard M. Langworth

    What Churchill said was “Meeting jaw to jaw is better than war.” See:

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