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Why did the Palestinian Authority and Israel resume negotiations?

January 23, 2014 at 7:15 am

Decision-makers in Israel believe that the resumption of direct talks with the Palestinians holds many dangers, especially since they have not been able to reach an agreement regarding the unresolved issues, such as the borders and land-swaps.

This is despite the fact that the Palestinian Authority president considered that Israel’s release of Palestinian prisoners was a turning point that helped him agree to the talks about talks. However, a number of obstacles remain so why have the two sides agreed to start talks again and why now?

First of all the Israelis and Palestinian Authority are fearful of more international condemnation, not least from the USA. The EU’s recent decision to boycott companies and goods from Israel’s illegal settlements is also an important factor. Failure to move forward on peace talks could lead to what Israel sees as attempts to “delegitimise” the state. The PA fears an end to US financial aid if it refuses to go back to the negotiating table. Support from the Arab League provided regional cover for the move towards negotiations, especially the umbrella body’s backing for land swaps.

Nevertheless, both sides agree that they are still very far apart and neither harbours any hopes that a final deal can be reached which fulfils their minimum requirements.

The Israelis and Palestinians have thus more or less been dragged into talks that neither side believes in. This means that neither is likely to invest much effort in the process, leaving this instead to the Americans. It is the US that both will be trying to convince that the blame for failure lies with the other side.

The nine months timeframe gives the Israelis in particular the opportunity to negotiate for the sake of negotiation, not to reach an agreement. It also gives them more time to build more settlement facts on the ground. One way to avoid this lazy approach to the talks is to agree in advance that they will not only discuss “final status” issues but also the way to implement a final status agreement. Such a process would include taking concrete steps to improve the conditions of the Palestinians, not least some more autonomy to develop the infrastructure of the intended state of Palestine. If this can happen, people will see some light at the end of the tunnel and begin to be convinced that the negotiations are worthwhile.

An agreement based on negotiations between the two parties is not a threat to the government coalition in Israel as the right-wing parties will not leave the coalition because their leaders do not believe that the negotiations will achieve anything in any case. There will be arguments, of course, but nothing more. Opposition groups have pledged to support Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu if the Jewish Home Party does jump ship; opponents of talks within his own Likud Party have no alternative leader waiting in the wings. As such, the Israelis can’t claim that the political situation in the country is preventing the government from moving forward with the peace process. We may, as a result, actually see some progress.

The author is s a Palestinian writer. This article is a translation of the Arabic text which appeared in Felesteen Newspaper, 5 August, 2013.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.