An Alternative To Peace?

From left: Israeli Regional Development Minister Sylvan Shalom, Jordanian  Water and Agriculture Minister Hazem Nasser and head of the Palestinian Water Authority Shaddad Attili, shake hands after signing an agreement at the World Bank in Washington on Dec. 9. (NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images/Newscom)

From left: Israeli Regional Development Minister Sylvan Shalom, Jordanian Water and Agriculture Minister Hazem Nasser and head of the Palestinian Water Authority Shaddad Attili, shake hands after signing an agreement at the World Bank in Washington on Dec. 9. (NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images/Newscom)

The current round of Israel-Palestinian peace negotiations, restarted in July by Secretary of State John Kerry, is at the halfway point of an agreed-upon nine-month timetable. While it is unclear whether the parties have made any real progress in their negotiations, it is clear that the complaints and finger pointing from the Israelis and Palestinians are in sharp contrast to Kerry’s upbeat pronouncements.

Last week, Kerry articulated some “thoughts” about Israeli security. Among other things, he suggested that Israel should retain control of the Jordan Valley for a limited time after an agreement is reached. Of course, neither side was happy with that suggestion: Israel wants permanent control of the valley. But an Israeli presence on the Jordan is a de facto Israeli border, and that was unacceptable to the Palestinians.

Shortly thereafter, President Barack Obama echoed Kerry’s suggestion, telling the Saban Forum in Washington that a peace deal would have “to happen in stages.” At least with respect to that particular piece of the agreement puzzle, the administration is apparently leaning on the Palestinian Authority to reconsider its opposition. On Monday, a Palestinian official charged that Kerry was “blackmailing” the Palestinians into accepting an agreement by using Israel’s imminent release of Palestinian prisoners as leverage.

Then, of course, there are the familiar disagreements: The Palestinians continue to complain about Israel increasing its settlement presence. And Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu continues to demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Speaking by satellite to the Saban Forum, Netanyahu predicted that an agreement with the Palestinians will result, at least at first, in a “cold peace.” With that in mind, Israel needs “ironclad security arrangements,” he said.

Netanyahu’s domestic critics charge that he is only giving lip service to the negotiations as a way of fending off international pressure and U.S. displeasure. Former Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin repeated his warning that time is running out on a two-state solution that will allow Israelis and Palestinians to pursue their independent destinies.

Then, amid all the rancor, hand wringing and finger pointing came an unprecedented agreement on Monday between Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians to lay a pipeline between the Red Sea and the Dead Sea that will provide all three with fresh water. Apparently the parties are able to agree when it is in their interests to do so. That’s a hopeful sign for those who want to see a peace agreement reached.

But it’s a mistake to conclude that a patchwork of technical agreements can replace a final settlement. In the long run, in the absence of some comprehensive agreement, no one will be happy — except for those who make a career out of the existence of the conflict. Without an agreement, Israel will have to fend off orchestrated Palestinian challenges at the U.N.; the potential for violence in the West Bank and Gaza will increase; and the “occupation” and overall dissatisfaction on both sides will continue.

There is a lot of noise surrounding the negotiations at this time, and there is a lot at stake. We hope that some of the peace efforts will succeed and that meaningful progress will be made toward a comprehensive agreement. Some agreement is necessary. No agreement only means bad news for both sides.

See related story, “A Piece Of Peace?

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