Today marks the deadline set in July by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry for Israeli and Palestinian leadership to achieve a “final status agreement,” which means that another round of peace negotiations has ended unsuccessfully.
There’s been a series of less-than-inspiring developments in recent weeks, from last week’s unity deal between Hamas and the PLO, which ended a seven-year rift between the two Palestinian factions and essentially guaranteed to bring negotiations to a standstill, to the news that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved 13,000 new settlement units during the duration of the talks. This week Kerry also came under fire this week for warning that Israel risked becoming “an apartheid state” without a solid peace deal.
The New York Times has a nice look back at the past nine months, and the turbulent though at times promising negotiations.
The nine-month talks, likened from the beginning to a pregnancy, broke roughly into three trimesters. First were about 20 bilateral meetings in which both Israeli and Palestinian negotiators failed to budge from their opening, maximalist positions. Then, after settlement announcements prompted the resignation of one Palestinian negotiator, those unproductive sessions were replaced in November with so-called proximity talks between each side and the Americans, focused on the framework. Finally, starting in March, the goal was truncated to simply extending the talks.
Back in July 2013, former Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin wrote that we were “approaching a point of no return regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
The reasons for this disappointing and disconcerting state of affairs could be found in a misunderstanding of the gravity of the situation as well as in discomfort from meeting this issue head-on, a discomfort motivated by narrow political interests. Then there is the populist stance taken by leaders who prefer uncontroversial, palatable sound bites that appeal to the widest possible audience. They take this stance while avoiding the task of dealing with a fateful, weighty, and unpopular issue that is still on the national agenda.
Diskin’s words ring even truer now, after yet another round of failed negotiations.