A contribution from NESA intern, Yevin Jayatilake.
After numerous failed prospects for peace, it was no surprise that the latest series of negotiations between Israel and Palestine with heavy U.S. involvement, came to a dead end. There were many hiccups throughout the process that started in August 2013 and ended abruptly in late April, with Israel citing the unification between Fatah-Hamas as the reason for failure. The second term of President Obama’s presidency was supposed to focus on the pivot to East Asia. This move by the administration was seen as an attempt by critics to steer away from the ongoing complications of the Middle East. However, with the appointment of Secretary of State John Kerry, U.S foreign policy remained focused on the Arab world, targeting the very complicated Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Secretary Kerry gave himself a timeline of nine months to make an attempt at successful negotiation. From Kerry’s point of view, those nine months would not need to have rendered a deal, rather the opportunity to extend the negotiations.
The United States brokered the deal between Israel and Palestine, and was the only one that remained committed throughout the nine month process. As a gesture of goodwill by the Israeli government, 104 Palestinian prisoners were to be freed in four batches, in order to keep the Palestinian leadership involved in the latest round of talks. Through the latter half of 2013 into 2014, the relationships between Israel, Palestine and the United States were stable and the possibilities of concessions were on the table. Towards the end of March 2014, the thread keeping the peace talks together started to break apart. The Israeli government, headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that they would not release the fourth batch of 26 prisoners, unless the Palestinian leadership decided to extend peace talks for at least another six months. For a very reasonable demand on behalf of the Israeli government, who took severe backlash for releasing what many Israelis viewed as terrorists, the Palestinian negotiators made every attempt to divert and point blame back at the other side. In the middle of this tense moment, Israeli Housing Minister Uri Ariel decided to issue 700 new housing tenders in the expanded settlement areas of the West Bank. The issue of settlement construction is extremely delicate to the Palestinian identity, and this put a wrench in the middle of the talks. Many U.S. officials blame Uri Ariel for the collapse of the talks, citing it was not the correct time to push expansions through. Ariel has long been to the right in Israel’s conservative party Habayit Hayehudi.
After learning of this situation, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas signed 15 international treaties, declaring Palestine an independent state. Since that declaration on April 1, Secretary Kerry was trying desperately to bring the two sides to collaboration, but the leadership was so rigid on their motives, that no negotiating could undo the damage. On April 23, President Abbas declared a unity Fatah-Hamas pact, which ended any chance for reconciliation. Hamas, which is declared as a terrorist group by the U.S. and Israel, does not accept Israel’s right to exist. At the culmination of the tensions, Israel decided to suspend negotiations, citing that they could not continue discussions any longer, while Hamas is a part of any legitimate Palestinian government.
The implications of this collapse are far greater than either side would like to admit. Each side is more content with delaying legitimate peace offers than trying to figure out a solution to the severely complicated problem. Both Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Mahmoud Abbas stick to their stories and claim they cannot go back to their communities with any compromises to the other side. However, as the two sides keep delaying a resolution to the never-ending conflict, Israel becomes more vast and powerful, and the future of the state of Palestine becomes ever more complicated. With Israel expanding into Areas B and C in the West Bank and continuing to have blockades surrounding the Gaza Strip, there becomes less hope for Palestinians to have a unified land.
The situation is not only a tragedy because of the constant terror and instability that Palestinian citizens face on a daily basis, but the situation continues to grow worse with every skirmish. The leadership of both states are too rigid, and so long as they are unwilling to compromise, at even the most micro level, then no true peace can occur. The intention of the leaders as they entered the peace deals in mid-2013 was not to achieve legitimate talks, but instead to continue the status quo for as long as possible. Knowing that neither side would agree to concede on controversial topics like Jerusalem and expanded settlements, the basis of the talks was more to make an appearance of cooperation to the world. In order to move forward with any logical approach to this conflict, President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu must work together and put aside their inflexible agendas, sort out a solution, and then present it to their communities. It will not be an effortless motion; however, with the heads of both states cooperating, and support from the international community, an agreement can be reached that gratifies communities on both sides.
Please note that the views expressed in this piece do not represent the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.