Until further notice, success solely belongs to President Obama, because he has been able to drag Israelis and Palestinians — although with much greater force on the former — to the negotiating table, this time to direct talks in Washington. The talks demonstrate political courage leading into the U.S. Congress’s midterm elections in November, though conventional wisdom says that on the eve of elections one does not play games, particularly with such a volatile issue like conflict in the Middle East. It remains to be seen, however, that this success can continue when the Democratic Party needs to count votes.
The only possible pact between Israelis and Palestinians has to be based on U.N. resolutions. It also seems necessary to demonstrate a level of optimism, however tempered, before very déjà vu negotiations. We have attempted negotiations so many times in the past, this time in convenient terms of one session every two weeks, and the American president is taking great risk in such an invitation.
And it’s not that the problem is formally unsolvable, or intellectually unfathomable. The entire world recognizes the only route that could lead to a resolution. The majority of the international community without exception, the EU, the United States, Russia, the Israelis and the Palestinians, including those like Hamas and extremist Zionists that would only be satisfied with the peace of victory, knows that the only possible pact would be based in U.N. resolutions. These resolutions request a withdrawal of Israeli troops by 22 percent from the West Bank, which Israel has not wanted to annex, and East Jerusalem, which includes the holy places of Islam and which the state has wanted to keep as strictly Israeli territory, and also some type of solution for the four or more million Palestinian refugees. All of this constitutes the vivid portrait of the Palestinian Authority’s position, headed by Mahmoud Abbas, and the position made public by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The Palestinian Authority understands, in addition, that these resolutions will be modified by the make-up of territories which have been loosely agreed upon, with the intention that Israel may retain part of its colonized territory, exchanging what it concedes for plots of similar extended territory within its official state borders. And to demonstrate that these negotiations are now serious, the Israeli government should declare an absolute end to its colonization — without the usual ruses like allowing for the “natural growth” of settlements — and not just prolonging the moratorium that Netanyahu approved 10 months ago and expires Sept. 26, which would only mean that the implementation will advance at a slower pace. Obama knows that without this concession the negotiations will go nowhere, and a freeze on settlements would be necessary to demonstrate Israel’s good faith. The Palestinian Authority, on the other hand, could also bolster their diplomatic positions by reiterating their agreement with the Arab League declaration issued in Beirut in March 2002, in which the establishment of full diplomatic relations of its 22 members with Israel was offered in exchange for the complete withdrawal of the territories occupied in 1967, which would no doubt be a solution to the problem of refugees.
The rivalry between Likud — a moderate right-wing party of the prime minister and Yisrael Beiteinu — the far-right wing party that wishes to expel Palestinians of Israeli nationality from the country to Judaize the entire country — is so severe that the collapse of the coalition and the call for new elections shouldn’t be ruled out, which would serve the interests of extreme Israeli nationalism and the terrorist movement Hamas because it would completely paralyze the negotiation process within months. Such a result would also be disastrous for Obama, who has provided a one-year timeline for the two sides to reach an agreement. Furthermore, the familiar theory that the next elections will bring a new Israeli government that is more willing to negotiate than the current administration requires too many variables to be valid.
Is Netanyahu capable of offering something that Abbas could accept without angering not only the terrorists but his own people? Judging by the record of both sides, it will be difficult. Does the Obama administration have the influence to force the Israeli coalition to do something it doesn’t want to do? Doubtful. Nevertheless it is pointless to close ourselves in with our pessimism. Jehovah and Muhammad — with a little help from the God of the American president — want to prove those who judge only with an extreme eagerness for realism wrong.