The two parties haven’t met in almost a month, and Israeli politicians are now openly discussing the success of maintaining the status quo. Even the crisis with the European Union is over.
Roughly halfway through the current round of negotiations, the talks between Israeli and Palestinians negotiators have hit a new low point. Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat told A-Shams Radio station that the two teams haven’t met since November 5th. He added that the talks are so futile that Palestinians are better off turning to the UN right away. Erekat also recently submitted his resignation to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, although Abbas has not yet accepted the resignation.
Both parties, it seems, are now waiting for a bridging proposal that the US team, led by special envoy Martin Indyk, is said to put on the table in January. However, there is widespread consensus in the Israeli political system that the entire process will lead to nothing. Following the deal over the Iranian nuclear program, a senior minister told Maariv’s political reporter Shalom Yerushalmi this week that the widespread assumption in Jerusalem is that no pressure will be placed on the government by Washington on the Palestinian issue.
People who recently met with Israeli ministers from Netanayhu’s own party recently saw with their own eyes little patience or sympathy for the American-led effort. Visitors who met with one of the most important ministers in the cabinet were recently told that the status quo is “perfectly fine,” and that only foreigners and leftists feel an urgency to challenge it. I’ve been arguing for several years that Netanyahu’s government(s) made a strategic choice to maintain the status quo for as long as they could; only recently have we begun hearing Israeli officials stating this openly.
In many ways, the current round of talks was constructed by the American negotiating team so that they leave little chance for success. For several years, the Palestinians demanded that Netanyahu’s government accept the terms of reference which were agreed upon in previous rounds of talks, including a solution based on 1967 borders with agreed-upon land swaps and a territorial compromise in Jerusalem. Netanyahu refused, and the talks didn’t resume until the US forced the Palestinians into negotiations “without preconditions,” thus relieving Netanyahu of political pressure, which allowed him to enter a process without actually committing to anything. Talks for the sake of talks.
It all comes down to the American and European decision not to confront the Israeli government on the Palestinian issue (since the costs will always outweigh the benefits on this front). Actual steps that could hasten end of the occupation (such as settlement removal, for example), are not even on the table. All we see on the ground are particular “gestures” – like the occasional roadblock removed or the release of a handful of prisoners – steps which can be overturned in a moment’s decision.
The much-debated European Union steps against the settlements has run its course as well. Although the Israeli government refused to sign any declaration regarding the status of the occupied territories, it will continue enjoy European grants. For a moment, the EU’s measures on this issue led to a more honest debate in Israel over the cost of the occupation. The conversation subsided, however, the moment an agreement was reached. The Israeli Right can once again claim that all of the Left’s prophecies regarding Israel’s international isolation were nothing but exaggerations. To a certain extent, it feels like the guidelines were always more about distancing the EU from involvement in the settlements than about Israeli policies.
Yet if anyone is interested in putting an end to the trends on the ground, they should know that a crisis is inevitable. Without it, the Israeli government (or the Israeli public for that matter) will have no incentive to enter the difficult process to end the occupation. It doesn’t matter how creative the new American proposal will be, nor how much the Obama administration will move towards Netanyahu’s positions. Support and understanding for the Israeli government should only begin when such a process is underway, and not a moment earlier. Otherwise, it will only produce the opposite result: securing the comfort zone of the status quo.