Israel, Palestinians Back to Square One

As another settlements deal between Israel and the United States falls apart, Daniel DePetris wonders what’s next for the peace process.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority talk in the Blue Room of the White House, Washington DC, September 1
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority talk in the Blue Room of the White House, Washington DC, September 1 (White House/Pete Souza)

Just when the United States were attempting to coax Israel into extending a ban on settlement construction for another three months, the Obama Administration decided to scrap the proposal altogether.

The plan under negotiation during the past month would have given Washington another three months to work with in exchange for a huge military donation to the Israelis. The American delegation also promised Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that any anti-Israeli resolution at the United Nations — including a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state — would be vetoed in the Security Council.

For the Israelis, the deal was more than generous. In essence, Netanyahu would have received a bunch of top notch fighter aircraft for a short freeze on settlement building. Any diplomat in a similar situation would have jumped at the chance to acquire that deal. The problem is that the Israelis were hesitant to sign on, skeptical whether the United States would actually hold up their end of the bargain.

As State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley stated at a news conference, the deal “had, in a sense, become an end in itself rather than a means to a end.”

That was a great statement to make. The administration and the Israelis were negotiating for over a month on an agreement that was only diverting diplomatic attention away from the real Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Indeed, the entire plan was a farce to begin with — there were no concrete assurances that an additional three months would have been enough time for the Israelis and Palestinians to agree on borders.

The query now is whether the peace process is dead. The Palestinians are already digging the grave. Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, predicated that the American decision would have “grave consequences in the region.” Maen Rashid Areikat, head of the Palestinian delegation in Washington, expressed his own worries. “One wonders in the future if they will be able to get Israel to comply with international law to reach a conclusion to the process,” he said.

So what’s next? Naturally, no one knows for sure. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is undoubtedly trying to formulate her next move. The Palestinians, meanwhile, may try to acquire recognition and sovereignty from other countries unilaterally. They have already made some success. Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay either recognized or reiterated their recognition of Palestine as an independent state this week. Finding more political support internationally would surely strengthen the Palestinian position.

One thing, however, is certain. If the United States make another wrong move and if the Israelis continue to toe an uncompromising line on settlement building, the Palestinians will take their case to the UN Security Council. President Barack Obama either needs to kick out his old Middle East team and hire new blood or put forth his own terms of what a peace accord should look like. Otherwise, the viability of a mutually agreed upon two-state solution will cease to exist.

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