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Stalled Talks

'False assumptions.' President Obama Photo: AFP
'False assumptions.' President Obama Photo: AFP
 
 

Weak American battery

Op-ed: Failure to jumpstart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks another sign of diminished US status in region

Eitan Gilboa
Published: 05.27.13, 20:11 / Israel Opinion

US Secretary of State John Kerry's visited the region for the fourth time since he took office in February as part of the effort to jumpstart the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. But the American battery is weak, and the starter doesn't work. Kerry's efforts cannot be detached from the US' status in the region and its failed policies with regards to burning issues such as the war in Syria.

 

Obama's hesitant conduct in the face of the use of chemical weapons and the supply of advanced Russian missiles to Syria exposed further deterioration of Washington's position in the Middle East and the world. Putin's Russia, which seeks to reclaim its superpower status by incessantly challenging Washington's positions, senses the continued American weakness and is taking full advantage of it.

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Obama and Kerry's strategy is based on two false assumptions. The first is that this is the last chance to achieve peace between Israel and the Palestinians due to the results of the revolutions throughout the Arab world, the weakening of Hamas, the weakened status of Netanyahu and the addition of politicians who support the negotiations to his cabinet – such as Yair Lapid and Tzipi Livni. The second assumption is that the only way forward is to reach a permanent, comprehensive agreement which can and should be reached quickly.

 

As far as Israel is concerned, the revolutions across the Arab world have created uncertainty that does not foster a permanent peace agreement with the Palestinians. If the continued reign of incumbent Arab leaders is uncertain, and if a new leader such as Egypt's Morsi declares his intention to amend the peace treaty with Israel, then what value does an agreement with a leader such as Abbas have?

 

Hamas is not weaker, and as for the new Israeli government, the Americans would be wise to read Lapid's recent interview with the New York Times. Moreover, the Americans assumed that Obama's visit to Israel, the alleged reconciliation between Israel and Turkey and the softened Arab peace initiative would increase motivation on both sides to resume negotiations, but these developments have yet to produce the expected results.

 

Kerry threatens that in case the sides do not resume talks he would introduce a new American peace plan. All previous American peace initiatives have failed. Examples include the Johnson plan of 1967; Rogers in 1969; Carter in 1977; Reagan in 1982 and 1988 and Clinton in 2000. The reason for these failures was simple: The Americans presented balanced plans that demanded concessions from both sides, but each side focused on the concessions it was asked to make and ignored the benefits it would reap. The only processes that yield any results emanated from the region itself - such as the peace treaty with Egypt and the Oslo Accords.

 

In the past American threats carried weight, because the peace plans were accompanied by a threat that those who reject or undermine the initiatives would bear the responsibility and be penalized. Today the Obama administration is perceived as being weak, so the threat is not treated with the same seriousness. Obama wasn't even able to convince Abbas to withdraw his demand for a settlement construction freeze before negotiations with Israel are resumed, and he also failed to persuade Turkish PM Erdogan to cancel his plan to visit Hamas-ruled Gaza.

 

It seems the alternative that would help advance the peace talks consists of a significant interim agreement that would remain in effect for a period of five years. But in order to implement such a deal, the battery must be recharged and the starter must be replaced.

 

Prof. Eytan Gilboa is director of the Bar-Ilan University School of Communications and research associate at its Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies

 

 

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