Kerry's Announcement

Israel and Palestine to Resume Peace Talks

Kerry has announced that Israeli-Palestinian peace talks are set to resume in the near future. Emily Hauser on what we can expect to see over the next few weeks.

Jacquelyn Martin / AFP / Getty Images

After watching it all seemingly come apart yesterday, many Israel/Palestine watchers appeared somewhat stunned by this afternoon’s announcement:

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Friday in a press conference in Amman that an agreement has been reached on the basis for the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian talks.Kerry said that Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat will travel to Washington next week in order to hold preliminary talks and discuss further details on the negotiations.

Stunned, and then immediately doubtful—and, honestly, can you blame us? Just look at the above: An agreement has been reached for the basis of the resumption of talks; next week will see preliminary talks and discussion of “further details” of the talks. We’re still talking about talking, in order to then talk more about talking—which (as Yousef Munayyer said so well yesterday) has heretofore provided Israel cover for the expansion of the settlement project and the deepening of the occupation, rather than actually providing any redress for Palestinians.A member of the PLO executive committee, Ahmed Majdalani, has said that the basic idea of these new direct talks is six to nine months of negotiations with an emphasis on borders and security arrangements—however: “he said Kerry would endorse the 1967 lines as the starting point of negotiations.” That is: The Israelis sitting across the table from the Palestinians would not.

Starting with borders could, potentially, be an important and positive step—after all, just what are we talking about here? What, exactly, is Israel, and where, exactly, is Palestine? But if only the Secretary of State acknowledges that those questions can only be answered with reference to the ceasefire lines of June 4, 1967, the whole exercise will be meaningless.

Kerry has apparently also told the Palestinians that Israel will free around 350 prisoners over the next few months—but note that this is a repeat of Israel’s past behavior of using people as bargaining chips, rather than actually dealing with the heart of the matter, which is, was, and remains the occupation. (Not to mention that, given the speed with which Israel often re-arrests former prisoners, I’m not sure the Palestinian people will be all that easily placated this time around).

Then there’s the little fact that even this—an agreement to talk about talks without necessarily agreeing as to what parcel of land is being talked about—is likely to prove utterly unacceptable to many members of Netanyahu’s government, and even his own party. Yesterday morning, when all of this was yet a rumor, senior coalition member and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett posted the following on his Facebook page:

Let it be clear: The Jewish Home Party under my leadership will not be a partner, for so much as a second, in a government that agrees to negotiate on the basis of the 1967 lines. Our capital Jerusalem is not, and will never be, up for negotiation.

Will Bennett, in fact, bolt? What about that other senior coalition member, Finance Minister Yair Lapid, who was the one telling reporters to “listen to the radio” in advance of a Kerry announcement—in the immediate wake of the spring elections, he and Bennett forged an alliance that shocked many of Lapid’s own supporters. They’ve visited settlements together, Bennett told a foreign diplomat that Lapid’s “not too crazy about” the two-state solution, and Lapid has made it abundantly clear that he’s not interested in negotiating over a shared Jerusalem. Why was he so anxious to tell folks to tune into the news? What has he been told, or been promised? And if that doesn’t come through, will he revolt?

On the other hand, if opposition leader Labor’s Shelly Yachimovich stands by her word to support a Netanyahu-led peace process from outside the government—will that be enough? What’s going on within the Prime Minister’s own party? Many young Likudniks are chomping at the bit to “end the occupation” by annexing the West Bank altogether—what are they saying right now?

And that’s not even considering the internal Palestinian politics.

In short, what we have now are a bunch of questions, and very little to go on. Which is, apparently, how the Secretary of State wants it—Bloomberg reporter Nicole Gaouette was at the press conference and reported that the details are to remain secret, adding that Kerry said:

Candid, private conversations are the very best way to preserve the time and the space for progress and understanding when you face difficult, complicated issues.

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Gaouette also reported that “as [Kerry] boarded, we could hear his staff burst into applause for him”—and you know what? For now, for today, I’ll join them. Guardedly. Because this is the first thing to even remotely approach good news out of Israel/Palestine in time out of mind.

But if next week reveals yet another “process” weighted toward privileging Israel’s immediate demands over Palestinians’ long-standing rights, and/or allows Netanyahu (a man who has spent his career working to undo Palestinian nationalism, one or two speeches notwithstanding) to dictate the terms by which the United States may attempt to meet its own national security needs (because make no mistake: A just and durable Israeli-Palestinian two-state solution is absolutely in America’s own best interests), the good news will turn very, very bitter. And not just for the Palestinians, because Israel needs a just and durable peace just as much as their enemies do.

This may very well be our last chance. I shudder to think what will happen if Kerry’s hard work turns to ashes.