On July 19, Secretary of State John Kerry triumphantly announced that Saeb Erekat, the chief negotiator for the PA, and Tzipi Livni, who carries that portfolio for Israel, would meet in Washington “within a week” to begin talking about talking. Within 48 hours, triumph turned into frustration.
We commend Kerry for trying to bring the two sides together, if for nothing else than to talk to each other about how they will talk to each other. We do not sympathize, however, with the sense of defeat he must have felt before the weekend was over.
In the Palestinian-Israeli dispute, what was agreed to one moment often is snatched away the next.
On the one hand, the PA’s president, Mahmoud Abbas, declared that his side would not return to the table unless Israel agreed, in advance, to return to the pre-June 1967 borders, which moots the purpose of negotiations.
On the other hand, Israel Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said that no one was going anywhere without the approval of his full cabinet, which does not meet until this Sunday. That meant, for one thing, that Kerry’s hoped-for start “within a week” would be delayed at least a week. It also might mean that Livni will not go to Washington at all, because the cabinet could reject the talks. It certainly will reject Abbas’ terms for those talks, which likely will amount to the same thing.
There is a reality Kerry should have learned from the earlier failures of his predecessors. The only chance there is for peace talks to occur between the PA and Israel is to impose total secrecy. We have doubts about Abbas’ willing to achieve a substantive agreement with Israel. We have no doubt, however, that he fears for his life if he attempts to do so without pre-conditions unacceptable to Israel.
Netanyahu, we have no doubt, would like to go down in history as the peace-making prime minister, but we also have no doubt that he lacks the political courage to pull it off. Time and again, he has agreed to things he took back the moment it became clear that his governing coalition was at risk of collapsing. His current coalition, a major component of which is a party that opposes a two-state solution, has teetered on the brink from day one. His only hope for political survival is a fait accompli.
The folks at Foggy Bottom should know all this by now. It troubles us that they do not.