According to reports, the US has once again managed to convince the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority to participate in another round of direct talks, to begin in Washington in a couple weeks. I cannot for the life of me understand what tactical benefit the Palestinians see in participating in negotiations with the Netanyahu government. Sure, the talks are beneficial for the Israeli leadership. Participation allows them a perfect opportunity to demonstrate a commitment to a just, negotiated peace, no matter what their intentions actually seem to be. For the Obama administration, the agreement provides a clear-cut foreign policy win, one that cannot be blocked or watered down by a legislature in disarray. Of course, just getting the two parties to agree to sit down and talk to each other is only viewed as a success because no one actually expects an agreement, and therefore the goal has essentially become talks for the sake of talks.
But for the Palestinians, there is precious little to be gained. With the split between Hamas and Fatah still unsolved, it would be difficult or impossible to actually implement a negotiated agreement that included Gaza. And just as it is often pointed out that negotiations with Iran provide them with the precious commodity of time, the longer the settlements are in place and the larger they grow, the more difficult it will be for a future, more moderate Israeli government to dismantle them and survive. And yet, in the end, when the talks collapse or simply end without agreement, the same people will once again be able to point the finger at the Palestinian Authority as the responsible party, due to their intransigence and unwillingness to compromise.
Perhaps I’m wrong, and it will be different this time. Perhaps George Mitchell has laid the groundwork for Obama to wring a few concessions, however small, out of both parties, in a small incremental step that actually moves the process forward. Sadly, with the political leadership in Gaza not participating, serious discussions of ending the blockade will not figure in those incremental negotiations, and with the Israeli leadership unable to compromise on the settlements and remain in power, it would seem that the two most pressing issues, and the two most amenable to small steps forward, will not be on the table.
So it’s hard to see this round of talks as anything but an elaborate charade. With neither the Israeli nor the Palestinian leadership in the political position to actually forge an agreement, it appears the process will either end pretty much where it started, or will collapse in acrimony and finger pointing. When there is political leadership in both Israel and Palestine willing to make real peace, it will be quite obvious to most observers. For one thing, they won’t need to be dragged to the negotiating table, and for another, an agreement will actually strengthen their government, not bring it down. Until that time comes, the best we can all agree on is that, in all cases, talking is better than shooting.