Israel and Palestine Agree to Peace Talks, but With Reluctance

John Kerry has finally convinced Israeli and Palestinian officials to return to the negotiating table, but with no changes to the fundamental land issue that divides them, the prospects for peace appear just as unlikely as before

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Mandel Ngan / AP

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks during a press conference at Queen Alia International Airport in Amman on July 19, 2013

John Kerry finally got what he came for, and came for, again and again and again — six times to the region in his first six months as Secretary of State: an announcement Friday that Israel and the Palestinians would resume peace negotiations. But it was a tepid one, weighted by reluctance on both sides and two decades of fruitless previous talks that encourage the shared pessimism.

Indeed, the dynamics that drove both sides back to the negotiating table appear to have little to do with the fundamental issue that both divides Israel and the Palestinians, and also binds them to one another endlessly — that both lay claim to the same land.

In Israel, the week before the nominal breakthrough, the Hebrew press was dominated by a diplomatic uproar that, more than anything, served to underscore the vital importance of at least looking interested in talks. What concerned Israelis was an E.U. effort to bar funding to Israeli entities operating on the West Bank, which is to say, in the approximately 200 Jewish settlements and outposts — subdivisions and small towns — Israel has built on land the Palestinians see as part of a future Palestinian state.

(MORE: After Peace-Process Stumble, Is John Kerry Wasting His Time in the Middle East?)

The rest of the world, including the U.S., calls the settlements illegal, but Israel regards them as part of sovereign Israel and sees the E.U. action as a diplomatic body blow — and perhaps a prelude to more in the absence of the formal negotiations that so please the watching world, as Yair Lapid, now Finance Minister in Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, put it in the last campaign. Israel Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor held to the line Friday, in an effort to hold back the E.U. action: “It would have been preferable if the energy put in drafting these guidelines had been invested in peace-promoting measures.”

The promise of a negotiated peace is what brought Mahmoud Abbas to the presidency of the Palestinian Authority seven years ago, in the glum aftermath of the second intifadeh, which chiefly proved that force — including suicide bombings — was not working so well. Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, lives to negotiate. But such is the distrust of Netanyahu (whose Likud Party is now dominated by settlers) that Abbas could not gather a majority of the Palestinian leadership on the West Bank to endorse Kerry’s bid to resume talks. (The other major Palestinian territory, the Gaza Strip, is controlled by the militant Islamist group Hamas, which refuses negotiating a final settlement on the issue.) The holdouts wanted the preconditions President Obama had himself held to during his first term, before handing the issue off to Kerry — a freeze on settlement construction and a statement that negotiations will begin with the borders that defined Palestinian territory in 1967, when Israeli forces took over the area, which it continues to occupy militarily.

(PHOTOS: Secretary of State John Kerry’s First Overseas Trip)

Israel rejects a formal acknowledgment of the 1967 lines, even though it’s been the basis for negotiations for two decades. Said Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin to Army Radio: “A negotiation in which you first say what you are willing to give up is not the kind of negotiation that leads to good results in the Middle East.”

By the same logic, the Palestinian side refuses Israel’s insistence that they recognize Israel as a “Jewish state” before resuming talks. Such a declaration would effectively nullify their claim of a “right of return” to the homes Palestinians fled and were driven from by Israeli forces. Polls show most Palestinians know it’s not going to happen, but the “right” is widely regarded as sacred (and worth compensation).

Kerry’s solution, as reported in the Hebrew press, was to say the talks would be based on both the 1967 lines and Israel’s status as a Jewish state, and let each side distance itself from the language. The talks are billed by Kerry as “final status” and set to begin “within a week or so in Washington.” Saeb Erekat, who has a Ph.D. in “peace-and-conflict studies,” will be representing the Palestinian side. Israel is sending both Tzipi Livni, the former Foreign Minister who made a resumption of talks a condition to her party joining Netanyahu’s governing coalition, and Isaac Molho, a private attorney who answers directly to the Prime Minister. All three have spent hours across the table from one another in previous negotiations. They know one another well, and what’s expected of them, and likely, after these many years, what’s not.

PHOTOS: President Obama’s First Official Trip to Israel

41 comments
barnardms1
barnardms1

The whole issue of the EU's new policy towards Israeli settlements was not a good start for peace talks, even if it had nothing to do with Kerry's efforts. On one hand, it may force Israel to realize that its settlement policy is unsustainable, on the other, it will likely convince Israel that it can only rely on itself to achieve its negotiation goals, a realization that doesn't bode well for the future of peace talks. No matter the result, the EU declaration does place it squarely out of a neutral zone and does remove it from playing a role in facilitating discussion, as outlined in this article here: http://jcpa.org/article/the-european-union-hypocrisy-hostility-and-blatant-prejudice/.

nlkatz
nlkatz

The sad reality is that we, Jews, have ceased to be enthusiastic about a prospect of an accommodation of peaceful coexistence between Arab and Jew, between the Muslim-Arab world and the sovereign nation-state of the Jewish people, Israel. The reason is clear: The Muslim-Arabs have systematically rejected, since 1920, every single peace offer, proposal, gesture and opportunity presented to them, hence, why are things different this time?


A list of missed/rejected opportunities for peace:


1920, San Remo conference decisions, rejected
1922, League of Nations decisions, rejected
1937, Peel Commission proposal, rejected
1947, UN General Assembly proposal, rejected
1948, Israel's stretched out hand for peace, rejected
1967, Israel's stretched out hand for peace, rejected
1978, Begin/Saadat proposal, rejected
1995, Rabin's Contour-for-Peace, rejected
2000, Barak/Carter peace offer, rejected
2005, Sharon's peace gesture, rejected
2008, Olmert/Bush peace offer, rejected
2009 to present, Netanjahu's offer of peace talks, rejected until recently


The common denominator of ALL the rejections has been one: The categorical objection to accept the RIGHT of a sovereign nation-state of the Jewish people to be, to exist on ANY parcel of land of the Jewish people's ancestral homeland.


Has anything changed since, we ask...??

dbrooks1976
dbrooks1976

@karl_vick One client state did not need to be persuaded to sit down. Israel has stated it will negotiate without pre-conditions. No?

BingJou
BingJou

There is nothing to suggest either side's willingness to compromise.  Nor is there any sign that the Obama Administration is going to risk some political capital to press forward.  The Congress is never so uncooperative than any time in the history.  John Kerry is simply showing he is working.  I would rather have him work on something that is attainable or more beneficial to the US. Obama is looking for another failure at peace between Israel and Palestine.

nlkatz
nlkatz

Let us, in this context, remember Mr. Rabin's Contour-for-Peace speech at the Knesset, 5 Oct. 1995, his last at the house: 


1. Jerusalem will remain united under Israel's sovereignty, and will include Giv'at Zeev and Ma'aleh Adumim 

2. All major Jewish settlement blocs, including Gush Qatif, will be incorporated into the state of Israel 

3. The Jordan Valley ought to be viewed in the widest sense of the term, and it too will remain under Israel's rule 

4. The future Palestinian Arab state will not be a regular state in that it will be fully demilitarized, its airspace will be controlled by Israel, as will its boundaries and all of its border passes: land, sea and air 

Let us keep Rabin's legacy alive!!

smehgol
smehgol

Since Imperial Rome, it has happened again and again. Jews enraged their host countries and repeatedly suffered disastrous pogroms. Excesses of Weimar Germany's monied Jewish minority led to the most recent which Israel promotes, actually advertises, as justification for its apartheid malevolence. “Never again” is lost on Netanyahu's Israel. Blind to history, its paranoid pursuit of invulnerability, territorial conquest and racist empire ensures “again” on a far grander scale. Abandoning and aggressively isolating the Jewish state could force it abandon its grandiose aspirations and thereby avert its destruction. There is no greater or kinder support that America could render to both the Mideast and its “inseparable Mideast ally.”

smehgol
smehgol

Israel's Mideast malevolence is a purposeful sideshow. It enables the ever increasing Israeli/Jewish control of America's government, finances and military-industrial complex. The Jewish state has occupied not just Palestine, but America too. Our democracy is being methodically destroyed from within and our country transformed into a world dominating racist ultrapower, the JEWISH STATE OF AMERICA.


arvay
arvay

I just wonder how much Abbas got paid for this. 

He's the Mangosuthu Buthelezi of Palestine. 

Stop
Stop

Neither side wants peace, who are you people trying to kid?

delta5297
delta5297

The Palestinians' refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state is nowhere as problematic as Israel's construction of settlements. The right of return will never become a de facto reality so long as the Israel Defense Force exists...but settlement construction is slow-motion annexation that threatens the viability of the peace process, and the Palestinian Authority has no means of stopping it.

aljabri_salem
aljabri_salem

@TIME @TIMEWorld I do remember Plaestinans said they would not resume talks long as their land is eaten piece by piece!

giampietro_tina
giampietro_tina

@TIME @TIMEWorld Let's all pray for Israel and Palestine for their peace talk Something's gotta give with this! They need it desperately

Rawan_Elzubair
Rawan_Elzubair

@TIME @TIMEWorld On the other hand, Palestine is a nation that will continue to resist. They have already lost too much to stop.

TizzAlNabi
TizzAlNabi

Who exactly does Abbas represent? His term ran out 6 years ago and he has no control over Gaza at all. What could go wrong?

smehgol
smehgol

Since Imperial Rome, it has happened again and again. Jews enraged their host countries and repeatedly suffered disastrous pogroms. Excesses of Weimar Germany's monied Jewish minority led to the most recent which Israel promotes, actually advertises, as justification for its apartheid malevolence. “Never again” is lost on Netanyahu's Israel. Blind to history, its paranoid pursuit of invulnerability, territorial conquest and racist empire ensures “again” on a far grander scale. Abandoning and aggressively isolating the Jewish state could force it abandon its grandiose aspirations and thereby avert its destruction. There is no greater or kinder support that America could render to both the Mideast and its “inseparable Mideast ally.”

smehgol
smehgol

Israel defines itself as a Jewish state and will never accept a non apartheid democracy with a Jewish minority. Continuing illegal annexations, settlement expansion and ethnic cleansing have also precluded any negotiated two state solution. The Jewish State must be forced to recognize an armed Palestine with externally enforced autonomy, eviction of all settlers, true contiguity encompassing Gaza, the West Bank and Jerusalem together, neither pinched nor parceled, and pay punitive reparations. American foreign policy must again serve American interests, not the Jewish state's paranoid pursuit of invulnerability, territorial conquest and racist empire.

bbsnews
bbsnews

@nlkatz Nothing will change until Israel retrieves its illegal colonists and returns behind its own border.

It's very simple. Israel has a state. Israel has illegally transferred more than half a million of its citizens to the Occupied Palestinian Territories. 

Stop dwelling in the past, face reality, and get theee back behind thy border and take your over the border Apartheid fence with you.

Some will still not be happy with this, but the Arab Peace Initiative is the last chance.

I believe it will fail. So it's One State(tm) for you Katz.

Enjoy what you and others have wrought by dreaming up all these red herrings.

nlkatz
nlkatz

P.S. And, i would add a fifth point:  


No Jew may be expelled from the village or town in which she/he presently dwell, anywhere between the Jordan River and the Med. Sea, none!! It is time to end anti-Jewish ethnic cleansing, and especially from their ancestral homeland.

cjh2nd
cjh2nd

@smehgol

"Since Imperial Rome, it has happened again and again. Jews enraged their host countries and repeatedly suffered disastrous pogroms"

that would be much more accurate if it was worded "since imperial rome, it has happened again and again--Jews were the victims of baseless anti-semitism because those in power needed a scape goat".  furthermore, your argument doesn't even pertain to the current situation. this isn't an example of jews "enraging their host country." it's a jewish country "enraging" its neighbors simply for existing. even if israel went back to the 1967 boundaries, there still isn't a single country in the region that wants them to exist.  

Stop
Stop

@delta5297  


I'm glad to hear you will gratefully hand over the South West of the US back to the Mexicans, when the day comes.

Gracias, mi amigo.

You giving Palestinian land to Israel is an honorable thing.

mxm123
mxm123

@nlkatz - Ya, get a whole country to settle Jews (Israel). But wait that's not enough. Start stealing land from Palestinians to settle Jews. I call that ethnic cleansing of Palestinians

gill_griffith
gill_griffith

@yodude120 I agree and they are all so dogmatic in their approach. Athiests have such a sedate life! Free the world of religion prob solved

mxm123
mxm123

@davidhoffman - A refugee can leave for any reason. That does not allow that person to be stripped of his home and land. Your reasoning/stories are purely hallucinatory and convinces none.

davidhoffman
davidhoffman

@bbsnews @nlkatz @mxm123 , the Arab leaders have admitted making tactical and strategic mistakes during the 1948 war.  One of the blunders was calling for Arabs in the newly declared State of Israel's territory to leave their homes if they we not part of the Arab forces attacking Israel.  The other mistake was to tell false stories about Israeli soldiers raping wives and daughters. The stories were intended to get Arab men to fight the Israelis to prevent family "shame" and "dishonor", but most took their families and fled to prevent the imaginary Israeli rapes.

The other huge mistake was to prevent those Arabs who would agree to live in peace as citizens of Israel to return after both the 1948 war and the 1967 war.  The Arabs adopted an all or nothing attitude.  Normal UN procedures to allow peaceful war refugees to return home were thwarted by those who would settle only for Israel's destruction.  Normal processes for those living in refugee camps to be absorbed into the host nation's population as full citizens were thwarted by those who would settle only for Israel's destruction. 

bbsnews
bbsnews

@nlkatz @mxm123  katz, you had better take your legal expertise and explian how you have it right while the entire world has it wrong. I asked both Kofi Annan and Ban Ki Moon and each and every one of the colonies are illegal. 

In short, your claim is complete nonsense. You might also note the original ethnic cleansing undertaken by Israel where they ran out 710,000 Arab Palestinians and then stole 450 Arab Palestinian villages to create your pathetic little state propped up by international and US largesse.

Israel was built on ethnic cleansing by a people who should have known better...

nlkatz
nlkatz

@mxm123 @nlkatz Eretz Israel (land of Israel)/Palestine was legally partitioned between Arabs and Jews back in 1921/22. At the time 77% of the territory was handed over to the Arabs and only 23% of its to Jews. The former, located between the Jordan River and the Arabian desert. The latter, located between the Jordan river and the Med. Sea. This act by the League of Nations was then etched into the UN charter, article 80, 1945. The Jews have accepted this partition. The Arabs have not.  


Indeed, the Arabs have expelled all the Jews that had dwelt anywhere in areas that they ruled, e.g. no Jews may be found east of the Jordan River...!! The Jews, by contrast, have welcome the Arabs and today some 20% of Israel's citizens are Arabs. 


No, we, Jews, have not now and have never been in the ethnic cleansing of others. By contrast, it has been the Arabs who have expelled some 850,000 of our people out of their countries upon the commencement of Israel's War of Independence which the Arabs initiated. 

bbsnews
bbsnews

@mxm123@nlkatzIt is ethnic cleansing and these "talks" are doomed to fail as is the bedrock international legal principle that 'territory gained by force or war or arms is inadmissible'. 

Kerry is wasting his time with the Israelis because THEIR precondition is all the land is "ours", and they want the Palestinians to go live in Jordan. Ask Avigdor Lieberman. His plan is "transfer" - the world calls it a War Crime and ethnic cleansing.

This is what happens when a theocratic ethnocracy controls the United States...

Oh well, it's the One State(tm) and no amount of posturing with fake peace talks will change the reality on the ground that the United States let Israel create.

Yet more endless bloodshed in the ME is now going to come after this failure and the realization hits everyone that just like Latinos in America - Palestinians are NOT leaving their land - so Israel will have to go to the next stage and start killing tens of thousands at a time instead of just a few hundred women and children at a time with their cowardly IDF that has never fought side by side with a grunt U.S. Marine because they are fat and lazy and no ally of the United States.

What an utter human waste because the United States has no guts to stand up to the client state of Israel and call them what they are. Thieving racists hellbent on stealing land from the indigenous people who were there when the Israelis were plunked down on their land from European and U. S. guilt after WW II.

yodude120
yodude120

@gill_griffith and now they're deeply involved in the syrian war. They're practically shoving Lebanon off the cliff into another civil war