When Israeli and Palestinian Authority negotiators met face-to-face today (along with representatives from the Quartet—the United States, the European Union, the United Nations, and Russia), it will be the first instance of “direct talks” since September 2010. Since then, the P.A. has called for further talks only on the condition that Israel suspend building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem (as it still does: lead P.A. negotiator Saeb Erekat—remember when he took the fall for the Palestine Papers and resigned last year?—insists that these are not real talks, as real talks will require a new freeze). Since then, also, the P.A. has to its credit the U.N. membership gambit as well as one failed attempt at reconciliation with Hamas and another that is ongoing. And since then, finally, came the Arab Spring. The meeting’s most relevant aspect might be its location: Amman.
For this, as the New York Times’ Ethan Bronner explains, is really all about Jordan. King Abdullah II is on his fourth prime minister since the Arab Spring began, because he faces the dual threats of a native Islamist movement (kin to Hamas and Egypt’s powerful Muslim Brotherhood) and the majority of his subjects who are Palestinian (he is Hashemite). (Nicolas Pelham published an excellent primer on Abdullah II’s situation last month.) The king wants to be seen as central and important now that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who usually hosted such talks, is out of the picture; wants to empower the more moderate P.A. as compared to Hamas, whose success threatens him both insofar as it emboldens his homegrown Islamist movement and as it increases the chance of a Hamas-run West Bank sharing 60 miles of Jordan’s border; and wishes to advance a Palestinian state in the territories lest the notion that majority-Palestinian Jordan absorb all the Palestinians become more enticing.
So that’s Jordan. You could argue that Israel faces incentives to make this meeting lead to talks, on the theory that a re-elected President Obama will push it as never before, but more likely Prime Minister Netanyahu will wait to see if Obama is re-elected before considering new initiatives. For the same reason, the U.S. is likely to make small statements and take few new risks. The P.A. typically looks for big concessions—the thinking is that these would persuade the Palestinian people that its moderate path is more effective than Hamas’. But right now, the P.A. is also pursuing a more confrontational path, both by trying to establish a unity government with Hamas and, reportedly, going to the U.N. Security Council with complaints about Israeli settlements (it did this last year, too, and a resolution was vetoed by the U.S., as one certainly would be again) and referring Israel’s 2008 invasion of Gaza to the International Criminal Court. In fact, the P.A. had better not come away with anything big, as its rival and potential partner, Hamas, has called for a boycott of the talks. And Hamas has its own patrons: not only a prospective future democratically elected Egyptian government, which would have a heavy Muslim Brotherhood element, but also Prime Minister Erdogan’s Turkey, which over the weekend hosted the head of Hamas’ government in Gaza, who was able to tour the Mavi Marmara.
So, to sum up: all of the relevant players are hemmed in by their own domestic constituencies in ways that all but guarantee no real results and a continuation of the status quo. It must be the new year!
Palestinians and Israelis Will Talk This Week [NYT]
Erekat: Peace Talks Require Settlement Halt [Haaretz/Forward]
Palestinians Plan Diplomatic Steps to Put Israel Under ‘International Siege’ [Haaretz]
Erdogan to Haniyeh: Talks Must Include Hamas [Ynet]
Related: Jordan Starts to Shake [NY Books]
Earlier: Reconciliation 2.0
Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.