Middle East peace negotiations are back to square one after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced last week that the Obama administration had given up trying to persuade Israel to extend its settlement freeze and would seek a new tactic to draw the parties back to negotiations.
Many in Europe and the Palestinian Authority have been quick to point to Israel’s refusal to extend the freeze as the reason for the most recent breakdown. We disagree and draw their attention to the original 10-month settlement freeze.
The Palestinian Authority, which has pinned its involvement in peace negotiations to a settlement freeze, did not act for the first nine months of the freeze and quit just weeks after restarting the talks, ahead of the freeze’s expiration. These are not the actions of a government that seriously wants to negotiate but rather those of a government stalling for time.
Never before has the United States put so much emphasis on settlement construction, and President Obama bears some responsibility for hardening the Palestinians’ hearts. From almost the moment he stepped into office, Obama made Israeli settlements an issue, demanding that Israel stop construction. How could Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas not demand the same as a precondition to negotiations when he had such a vocal cheerleader?
And these policies have led us here, seemingly to a political stalemate. But this is a Palestinian Authority that has – thanks largely to American and European donors and advisers – built infrastructure and imposed security in the west bank. Gaza remains estranged, but the west bank is closer to statehood than ever before, which led Brazil and Argentina last month to recognize a state called Palestine. An increasing number of voices within the Palestinian Authority are speaking of unilateral recognition by the United Nations and, although this would fly counter to several U.N. resolutions, these voices are gaining an audience outside of the Middle East.
The Palestinians must be persuaded that a unilateral declaration is detrimental to regional stability and that the United Nations will not impose a solution. To do that, the rhetoric must change; Obama cannot be more Palestinian than the Palestinians. We hope that the different path Clinton spoke of last week marks the beginning of a new direction for the administration so that it can quickly draw both sides back to negotiations.