The Israeli-Palestinian negotiations are the diplomatic version of the Malaysian plane affair: They have disappeared off the radar. For eight months they are lying somewhere, without signs of death, without signs of life. Common sense tells us to announce a crash, but the involved parties are insisting that the plane is still in the air.
The goal set by American Secretary of State John Kerry was clear: To get the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority to sign an overall agreement within nine months, or at least a framework agreement which would lead to an overall agreement. For that purpose, he appointed a team of more than 120 people, experts on Israel, experts on Palestine, experts on removing security, political and economic barriers standing in the way of the long-awaited peace.
At the American Consulate compound in Jerusalem, the Americans worked day and night for an agreement. Kerry wouldn't leave them alone: The agreement was supposed to be the highlight of his achievements as foreign minister. When he was not in the region himself, he made sure to hold long phone conversations with Netanyahu and Abbas. More than they wanted to be fed, he wanted to feed them.
He discovered that his two partners are ready to continue talking endlessly – but are not ready to reach an agreement. Gradually, the Americans were forced to change their target: Instead of a framework agreement, an agreement to continue the negotiations for another six months. Instead of peace, time. Netanyahu wants to play for time; Abbas wants to play for time too. Nevertheless, they are both setting conditions. They are complaining to the Americans, each in his own style, that if they fail to receive something, if they fail to humiliate the other side in public, their parties will depose them. Abbas with Mohammed Dahlan and the Fatah leadership; Netanyahu with Danny Danon and the Likud committee. The bigger heroes they are outside, the more miserable they are behind closed doors.
In the past few nights, the American team has been fighting for the fourth batch of the prisoner release. Abbas is saying, I paid my share at the start of the talks; Netanyahu is demanding an additional payment now. The Americans are looking for a solution which will satisfy the two leaders' thirst for an achievement.
Next stage: A bi-national stateIt's a cruel summary: Eight months; a lot of willingness to listen, both on Netanyahu's part and on Abbas' part, and yet a huge amount of suspicion between them, which only grew stronger during the talks; zero progress.
Perhaps it's time to say to the American administration: Enough. Really, it's kind of you to make such an effort for us, but it's really unnecessary. Our prime minister and the head of the Palestinian Authority are not children in need of a nanny. They understand very well the nature of the responsibility on their shoulders, the size of the risks, the list of priorities. Let them try to get along on their own.
You are very familiar with history: Every negotiation between Israel and Arabs which ended with an agreement began behind your back. The peace with Egypt and the peace with Jordan, as well as the Oslo Agreement. The American intervention was needed in the end, but only got in the way in the beginning.
You are also familiar with the second historical lesson: If at least one of the sides doesn’t have a clear need for an agreement, there will be no agreement. The opening conditions of the current round were different: Neither side was in desperate need of an agreement or believed in it. Neither side thought the agreement was crucial for its survival. The only one who believed in it was the mediator.
The third historical lesson is that in global terms, our conflict is not so important anymore: It does not hold the potential for a regional war or for a crisis between two super powers; it does not threaten the flow of oil or other vital American interests. An American withdrawal will have a cost, of course. America will be able to live with it.
The problem is not Kerry's. The problem is ours, both Palestinians and Israelis. The Palestinians could have been the most advanced people among Arab nations today, enjoy a democratic regime and a comfortable life. They are losing precious years, losing generations. The ongoing occupation is perpetuating their insult, their weakness, the corruption of their institutions and their dependence on external donations. Their only comfort is that they can continue nurturing the dream of a great Palestine, from the Jordan River to the sea.
Our problem is much worse. A continuation of the current situation will necessarily turn us into an apartheid state, ostracized in the West, morally undermined, split on the inside. The next stage will be a bi-national state. Netanyahu knows that. And yet, he can't stop.
As long as the Americans are focusing all their authority, all their power, on maintaining futile negotiations, a long flight nowhere, the political echelon on both sides is free of accounting for its deeds and failures. This is the damage Kerry is inflicting on both people. He is not offering a remedy for this difficult conflict; at the most, he is offering aspirin.