Last night the first (preliminary) meeting of the long-awaited Israeli-Palestinian resumption of peace talks took place in Washington, D.C.
In lieu of real developments, we were left with little in terms of insight and proper news. The groups met independently for 45 minutes with Secretary of State John Kerry and then joined together for a Kerry-hosted Iftar dinner at the State Department, featuring a menu to die for.
The 90-minute dinner was billed as an Iftar meal, which breaks the day of fasting for Muslims during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. They sat at a rectangular table — five U.S. officials lining one side and the two Israeli and two Palestinian negotiators on the other — to dine on sweet corn and shell bean soup, grilled grouper, saffron risotto, summer vegetables and apricot upside-down cake.
“We’re happy to welcome you. It’s really wonderful to have you here — very, very special. We have, obviously, not much to talk about at all,” Kerry joked after the participants sat down shortly after 9 p.m. at the table topped with a mint green cloth and goblets of mango iced tea.
It was not immediately known whether the delegations understood that Kerry was joking. But today, should be more eventful as President Obama will drop by to say hello to the delegations, which is super nice of him.
It seems the more compelling news about the burgeoning Israeli-Palestinian peace came from beyond Foggy Bottom. First, Elliott Abrams and Uri Sadot asked the question that nobody seems to know, namely, how many Israeli settlers actually live in the West Bank? Turns out, despite the highly contentious status of Jews beyond the Green Line, no one seems to know how many there actually are. This would seem to be useful information given the hand-wringing over demography, the potential uprooting of population blocs, etc., and the centrality of the issue with regard to negotiations.
In Cairo, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas thumped his chest and declared that not a single Israeli would be allowed to live in the Palestinian state. Perhaps, this is Abbas’ way of looking tough ahead of negotiations and making future concessions on big issues seem more palatable, but unfortunately, it also makes Abbas seem disinterested in making real progress in the actual negotiations.
Meanwhile, Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett took up the diplomatic mantle for Avigdor Lieberman in reportedly suggesting that there would be no prisoners with blood on their hands to release if Israel simply killed terrorists instead of capturing them. When one adviser pushed back, mentioning that this was illegal, Bennett reportedly clarified that “I have killed lots of Arabs in my life – and there is no problem with that.”