Here are three recent mainstream reports that the peace process is stalled and going nowhere. Interestingly, all three put the blame on Israel, which is a shift from earlier versions of the failure of the peace process. The key issue mentioned is Israel’s refusal to withdraw forces from the Jordan Valley in the West Bank.
I’m saving the harshest for last: the statement from PLO official Yasser Abed Rabbo, who is authorized to speak publicly about the negotiations, saying that “these are the worst negotiating sessions in 20 years,” a statement mentioned at the State Department briefing yesterday.
First, Jackson Diehl in the Washington Post says John Kerry is conducting diplomacy between the parties by “fantasy.” Though Diehl’s column criticizes Obama for withdrawing from what Diehl considers a necessary cold war in the Middle East (with Saudi Arabia and Israel on the same side), he says that the two-state deal is going nowhere fast. And notice where the blame falls:
Virtually no one outside the State Department — including the nominal parties to the talks — takes seriously the possibility that Kerry’s plan for a Geneva conference to settle the Syrian war can work in the foreseeable future, or that Israelis and Palestinians can agree on a two-state settlement. They play along with the process to please Washington, or Moscow, while complaining to journalists like me that Kerry’s diplomacy is based on fantasy. Who can imagine Syrian President Bashar al-Assad placidly agreeing to step down? Or Netanyahu ceding East Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley to the Palestinians and their security forces?
Zvi Bar’el in Haaretz echoes Diehl, saying the Obama administration has made the determination to get out of the Middle East as much as it can, and forget about all the geopolitics of that region. Including a fruitless peace process. Notice that Bar’el also blames the Israelis for the failure.
Why does the Obama administration insist on continuing to deal with the Israel-Palestinian conflict, of all things, where its chances of succeeding are less than the odds of winning the lottery? It seems the answer has to do with the paradox that says failure is success. An administration that is concerned about its future is careful of getting into conflict with an Israeli government, and that is all the more true of a right-wing Israeli government. It must settle for a show of willingness and determination to move the process forward, but only the process.
As far as the U.S. is concerned, the process is simple — it has no risk, no potential of military intervention, no strategic threat that could lead to a regional war. Even the tiniest amount of progress, such as dismantling an illegal outpost, releasing prisoners or relief measures for commerce, can be taken as a great accomplishment. For the far-right that is running Israel, the “reevaluation” of American foreign policy is good news. All it has to do is act as if it is a partner in the peace process, as if it is anxious for the welfare of the talks with the Palestinians, as if it accepts the two-state solution. This is the art of horse-thieving that Israel is skilled in, and that the U.S. is also familiar with. That is how friends operate.
Now here is that dialogue from the State Deparment yesterday:
Question: Today, a PLO official Yasser Abed Rabbo said is the worst negotiating session in 20 years. Do you have any comment on this?
MS. [Jen] PSAKI: Well, Said, we know there’s a range of comments and reports out there. We’re not going to speak to every one of them. We’re still continuing to pursue, of course, a negotiated two-state solution. Our focus remains on that. And there have been also a range of reports recently about Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decision to release prisoners and President Abbas’s decision to put aside efforts to upgrade the status of the Palestinians in international organizations. We consider those to be conducive to creating a positive environment for the negotiations. But they’re ongoing. I don’t have an update for you. And beyond that – go ahead.
QUESTION: What would compel someone of the stature of Yasser Abed Rabbo to come out and say this publicly, that these are the worst negotiating sessions in 20 years? What would compel him to do that? I mean, you are the only one endowed with the ability to comment on these negotiations as they take place. They have already taken place for three months. We have six months to go, so the clock is ticking. So I want your comment on why would he say this if things were moving in the right direction.
MS. PSAKI: I can’t ascribe for you a reason. Obviously, you know the negotiators and who they are and who the parties are who are participating. Both parties have committed to a nine-month timeframe. That has remained the case. So they’re continuing to work through a range of issues that are on the table.
QUESTION: He’s accusing the Israelis of sticking to one point, which is basically maintaining a – some sort of a military presence along the Jordan Valley, and they will not move beyond that. Is that your reading of the negotiations as you are –
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to –
QUESTION: — as you supervise –
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to speak to that. You know that every significant issue is on the table, so certainly security is a part of that.
QUESTION: Did you know anything about the Quartet meeting today?
MS. PSAKI: I do. So they – the Quartet envoys will be meeting in Jerusalem today to discuss the ongoing final status negotiations, and Ambassador Indyk will be representing the United States in that meeting.