Jordan’s King Abdullah warned on Sunday that unless progress is made in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the Middle East could once again see its oldest conflict erupt in flames. The greatest danger in the region, he told ABC’s This Week, is the status quo which prevents either side from compromising. “Whenever we accept the status quo, we do so until there is another war.”
Israelis and Palestinians stopped negotiating last year when the former would not extend a ten month freeze in settlement construction in the West Bank. Jordan played a role in the collapse of the peace talks too as it refused an Israeli demand for troops to be permanently stationed west of its border with Israel.
Since it was announced that the moderate Fatah party would work together with Hamas, which is considered a terrorist organization in Western nations, the Israelis have practically given up on the possibility of direct talks. Why, they argue, sit down with people who reject Israel’s very right to exist?
King Abdullah urged the Israelis to “pick one argument and bloody well stick to it,” pointing out that they had criticized Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas because he did not represent all of the Palestinian people. Hamas controlled the Gaza Strip whereas Fatah was in control of part of the West Bank. “Abbas has now made reconciliation with Hamas, does represent the Palestinian people, and the Israeli argument is, well, we can’t deal with him because of Hamas,” said Abdullah who added that Hamas would not have a role in the “security apparatus” of the West Bank.
In an encompassing speech about the Middle East on Thursday, President Barack Obama suggested that Israeli’s 1967 borders should serve as a basis for negotiations about the outlines of a future Palestinian state. Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu, who came to Washington DC the next day, rejected the forty-year old border situation as unrealistic. “We can’t go back to those indefensible lines,” he told Obama.
Since the end of the Six Day War, the United States have gradually softened their position on Israeli settlement activity. While the Nixon Administration condemned the building of Jewish homes in occupied territory, President Ronald Reagan said settlement construction was not “constructive.” Bill Clinton allowed for natural growth and George W. Bush in 2004 promised Israel that America would recognize the “realities on the ground” in negotiations about its future borders.
The Obama Administration publicly denounced settlement activity as “illegitimate” but the president recognized that mutually agreed land swaps would be necessary. Previous proposals under which Israel offered to surrender much of the West Bank with the exception of large settlement blocs and East Jerusalem were rejected by the Palestinians however.
Since Israel’s settlement moratorium expired last year, colonists have started building again in territory that is claimed by the Palestinians. “The circumstances that we’ve seen on the ground for the past two years does not fill me with much hope,” said Abdullah.
Israel currently has an outspoken pro-settler party in its government whose leader and Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman prevented Netanyahu from extending the settlement freeze last year. Giving up entire settlements is politically hazardous for the prime minister whose own conservative voters tend to be wary of generous concessions to the Palestinians.