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Whatever Happened to the Peace Talks?


mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:Arial”>The negotiations, which have been conducted in a fog of secrecy, flitted briefly back on to the radar last week when the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, met Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu for what the media called an “unusually long”, seven-hour meeting in Rome.

mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:Arial”>Kerry’s intervention follows weeks of mounting Palestinian frustration, culminating in rumours that the talks are on the verge of collapse. After a meeting with Kerry in Paris, an Arab League official, Nasif Hata, added to the desultory atmosphere, saying there were “no positive indications of progress”.

mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:Arial”>But privately his officials have expressed exasperation at Israel’s inflexibility and the miserliness of its opening positions. Earlier this month the Al-Hayat newspaper reported that Israel had refused to discuss the key issue of borders, instead focusing exclusively on its own security concerns.

mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:Arial”>The reality, however, is that the lack of scrutiny has allowed Israel to drag its feet and browbeat the weaker, Palestinian side. Israel’s lead negotiator, Tzipi Livni, has already warned that the talks’ timetable is likely to overrun.

mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:Arial”>Secrecy, Israel hopes, will give it the cover it expects to need when – as seems certain – the talks end inconclusively, or the Palestinians storm out. Widespread ignorance about developments can be exploited to cast the Palestinians as the treacherous party, as occurred following the collapse of the Camp David talks in 2000.

mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:Arial”>Indyk is said to be now actively involved. The rate of meetings between the negotiators has been stepped up sharply in the past fortnight. And last week’s meeting in Rome suggested that the US hopes to pressure Netanyahu either into making a big concession or into beginning the face-to-face talks with Abbas that this process is supposed eventually to lead to.

mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:Arial”>But whatever Netanyahu has told Kerry in private, few believe the Israeli prime minister is really ready to seek peace. Earlier this month he set out in public his vision for the talks, in a follow-up to his famous speech in 2009, when, faced with a newly installed US president, Barack Obama, he agreed to a two-state solution.

mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:Arial”>It is this kind of uncompromising talk that has discredited the negotiations with everyone outside the White House.

mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:Arial”>In a further show of dissension, they have backed a bill that would require a two-thirds parliamentary majority before Israel can even broach at the talks the key issue of dividing Jerusalem. If passed, the legislation would turn the negotiations into a dead letter.

mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:Arial”>In the West Bank, a spate of attacks and killings of Israelis over the past few weeks – after a year without the loss of a single Israeli life from the conflict in 2012 – has provoked much speculation in Israel about whether a Palestinian uprising is imminent. A Palestinian driving a bulldozer who recently rampaged through a military base near Jerusalem only reinforced the impression.

mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:Arial”>This time the government has committed to building 5,000 settler homes in return for the release of 25 prisoners jailed before the Oslo accords were signed two decades ago.

www.jonathan-cook.net.

A version of this article first appeared in The National, Abu Dhabi. 

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