American diplomacy, which has been enduring one failure after another in the Middle East, is faced with the prospect with yet another large fiasco which threatens to bury the White House's entire Middle East strategy altogether. There are more and more signs that the sluggish process of Palestinian-Israeli reconciliation, which remains for now in the shadows, could be disrupted at any moment and turn into the hot phase of the Third Palestinian Intifada... Having arrogantly pushed aside the «quartet» of mediators, Washington has achieved nothing in the reconciliation arena on its own, which may well result in new ordeals for the Middle East. Experts believe that in making the peace process in the Middle East his main priority, Secretary of State Kerry has set the stakes so high that «if this effort collapses, it will be a long time before anybody tries again». For example, Elliott Abrams, who was a senior official on President George W. Bush’s National Security Council, has said that he sees no realistic possibility that a final agreement can be reached now. «I just hope there are two State Department teams: one to work on the talks, and the other to start planning for what to do when they fail», he said.
The actions of the «sole mediator» have deliberately doomed the negotiations to failure. The U.S. used a simple trick: it promised both sides that it would satisfy all their «legitimate demands», and presented both Israel and the Palestinians with letters of guarantee. The U.S. promised the Palestinians that it would negotiate on the basis of the 1967 borders, while it promised Israel that the final borders would differ from those of 1967. The Palestinians claim that they received guarantees of the inviolability of the 1967 borders from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and that it was only on this condition that they agreed to resume the peace process. Now the Americans are refuting this information. Netanyahu also denies the existence of such letters of guarantee.
Washington essentially agreed to the demands of the Israeli prime minister not to raise the issue of the 1967 borders and the division of Jerusalem at the negotiations. As Noam Sheizaf wrote in the leading Israeli newspaper Maariv, John Kerry's efforts to show at least some kind of result from his activities in the Middle East have led to the betrayal of the fundamental agreements concluded during the grueling negotiation process (starting with Clinton's program and ending with the «road map»). According to experts, «Netanyahu has still outplayed the Americans (who will pay the price for this Pyrrhic victory is another question). After three years of obstinacy, the Obama administration has given in and agreed to annul all previous deals reached between the parties during the negotiations in Taba and Annapolis».
At the moment Netanyahu is worried not so much about Washington's position, but about the independent actions of the official negotiator for Israel, Minister of Justice Tzipi Livni, who was appointed at the insistence of the Americans and takes a softer stance than he does. While Tzipi Livni supports the idea of dividing Jerusalem, Netanyahu is categorically opposed to this. Livni might agree to the partial demolition of Israeli settlements in occupied territories, while the head of the government insists on their preservation. Livni is willing to agree to the deployment of international forces in the Jordan valley, but Netanyahu insists on the presence of Israeli forces.
But the fears of the Israeli prime minister are most likely exaggerated. Livni is required to get approval for the positions she presents from the head of government, and his word is final. Furthermore, Netanyahu's personal representative, Yitzhak Molcho, is taking part in the negotiations and monitoring all Livni's actions.
No one in the Palestinian camp is counting on the success of the negotiations either. «We decided to react positively to the endless requests from the U.S. to resume the 'peace process' in order to please the Americans and avoid possible accusations that we are conducting a policy of constant refusal,» admits one of the negotiators from the PLO. The Palestinians realize that in the current situation «Israel will not agree to give back what it seized in the war of 1967, to say nothing of allowing Palestinian refugees to return home». Moreover, they understand that due to prevailing public sentiments, «any Israeli government that agrees to give back the West Bank and retreat to the borders of June 4, 1967 will be committing political suicide».
It is true that as a result of many years of propaganda, the great majority of Israelis are not inclined to support making any compromises with the Palestinians. The results of one survey conducted in the country, in which 4,774 respondents took part, look quite dismal. 70% of those surveyed, for example, feel that there is no sense in signing a peace treaty with the Mahmud Abbas administration. Only 17.5% of respondents hold the opposite opinion. Over 87% believe that it will not be possible to achieve the signing of a peace treaty between Israel and the PNA as a result of the current negotiations. Only 2% believe that such a result is possible. 73% think that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict will never end. 14.5% believe that it will end, but no earlier than the year 2030.
Survey participants were asked: «What concessions do you believe are acceptable for the sake of reaching a peace agreement with the Palestinian National Administration?» Around 48% chose the categorical answer «None». 1.5% think agreeing to the return of Palestinian refugees is acceptable, 2.4% think the complete evacuation of the Jewish population from the West Bank of the Jordan River is acceptable, 3.1% find retreating to the 1967 borders is acceptable, and less than 7% of those surveyed feel that dividing Jerusalem is acceptable.
Such attitudes are fed by the doctrinal arguments of Israeli strategists. In particular, a report was prepared at the BESA (Begin-Sadat) Center for Strategic Research with the characteristic title «Time is on Israel's Side». It argues that Israel's advantage over its regional adversaries in terms of aggregate measures of national power has never been as great as it is now, and that this tendency will continue in the long term. To a great extent this situation was the consequence of the destabilization of countries neighboring Israel after the «Arab Spring». The arguments of the Israeli left camp for a quick settlement of the Palestinian question may be considered insubstantial. There are no real threats to Israel, and accordingly, there is no need to make concessions either. The discord between Arab countries and Iran has grown to the point that their concern about the Palestinian question has been pushed to the background and they are becoming potential allies of Israel. That is why Tel-Aviv is so insistent about the Iranian peril. After 65 years of existence, Israel can be confident that it will overcome all the challenges it faces in the future. «While peace is desirable, it is not a necessary condition for survival,» concludes the author of the report, Efraim Inbar. (2
It is not surprising that some of Israel's suggestions at this stage of the negotiations are of a deliberately unacceptable, not to say mocking, nature. For example, according to information in Maariv, at the negotiations with the Palestinians the Israelis plan to offer their partners a partial deal on the principle of «annexation in exchange for annexation». The essence of the offer is that Israel would annex part of the West Bank of the Jordan in the south (Gush Etzion) in exchange for transferring part of the territory of the West Bank in the north (in the area of Shechem) which is now under Israeli control to the Palestinian Administration. In other words, Israel is offering the Palestinians not its territory, as was provided for at Camp David in 2000 and in Annapolis in 2008, but their own. The chances that the Palestinian side will accept such an offer are few, admits the article's author, Ariel Kachane. The pan-Arab newspaper Al-Hayat reports that Israel insists on control and the presence of Israeli soldiers in the Jordan River valley, the creation of early warning stations along the river, monitoring of the movement of persons between the West Bank and Jordan and the preservation of military bases on the highest points of the West Bank. The Jordan valley would be part of the future Palestinian state, but it would be transferred to Israel under a long-term lease. The Israelis also continue to insist that the entire border with Jordan be under the control of their army.
Naturally, such suggestions are absolutely unacceptable to the Palestinians. At the General Assembly of the UN, Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas clearly stated that an agreement can be reached only on the basis of the 1967 borders. The Palestinians refuse to «enter into a vortex of a new interim agreement that becomes eternalized», said Abbas. «Our objective is to achieve a permanent and comprehensive agreement and a peace treaty between the states of Palestine and Israel that resolves all outstanding issues and answers all questions, which allows us to officially declare an end of conflict and claims». He warned that most likely this will be the last opportunity for Israel and Palestine to settle the conflict.
In both camps people are increasingly coming to the conclusion that the prospects of the beginning of a third intifada are becoming inevitable. The Israeli newspaper Gaaretz writes, «If the negotiation process fizzles out altogether in connection with Netanyahu's inability to hold up under pressure within his party, unrest really will begin in the territories which could grow into a new intifada».
The country's current government is convinced that it will meet with success in this standoff. However, such self-assurance is most likely unjustified; after all, the challenges for Israel could be of an asymmetrical nature. A new Palestinian uprising would be quite able to further complicate the situation in the entire region and lead to serious economic and diplomatic losses for Tel Aviv.
As Gaaretz warns, Netanyahu is placing his country at risk. The failure of negotiations traditionally serves as a trigger for the beginning of the next wave of violence in the Middle Eastern region. The failure of the current round, the newspaper writes, «will further damage the international status of our state. The world is tired of occupation, and no explanations will relieve us of responsibility anymore».