The recriminations and told-you-so’s that followed the apparent breakdown in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations last week are well- founded. Each side pointed to the other in an effort to cast blame. At least with respect to the particular accusations made, each side was right: The Palestinians acted contrary to agreed protocol by signing 15 U.N. treaties, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu charged. And Israel reneged on its agreement to release a fourth round of Palestinian prisoners, as President Mahmoud Abbas complained. But neither “violation” caused the talks to fail. Rather, the nearly nine months of talks failed because they were led by people who were apparently too weak to transcend their own political limitations.
So, where do things go from here?
Suggestions on the Israeli side have come from left, right and center. Tzipi Livni, the lead Israeli negotiator, called on Netanyahu and Abbas to start talking directly instead of relying on their underlings. The nine-month window doesn’t formally close until April 29, so there is still time for such talks. But would the effort lead to some kind of grand gesture or a breakthrough? We doubt it. And there has been no sign that either man has it in him.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu’s political partner, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, called for new elections in Israel as a way to break the stalemate. Perhaps Lieberman thinks that the failure of the talks will produce gains for the right wing and propel him to the prime minister’s office. We doubt that as well.
And from the left, former government minister Yossi Beilin urged the two sides to stop trying to reach an elusive final status agreement. Instead, Beilin said that with U.S. help, the two sides should negotiate the creation of a Palestinian state with temporary borders. Under Beilin’s plan, the prisoner release would go through and the Palestinians would freeze their applications to the U.N. We don’t think that suggestion has much likelihood of success either.
That said, we find it encouraging that even in the face of the collapsing talks and mounting frustration, almost all factions of the Israeli government are actively proposing alternative approaches. New ideas present new opportunities, and that is good.
We are discouraged, however, that we hear nothing similar coming from the Palestinian side. In that regard, we urge Abbas to recognize that the politics of rejection only gets his cause so far. Without at least some give, there is a limit on what one can take. And in a true negotiation, one needs to learn how to say “yes.” We have seen no indication that Abbas and his “negotiators” subscribe to this view.
While we would like to believe that Secretary of State John Kerry’s intensive effort to bring the two sides to an agreement was not in vain, we aren’t so sure.