Israel’s Neglected Peace Dividend

TEL AVIV – Twenty years after the Oslo Accords, the prospects for a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian peace deal are dimmer than ever. Indeed, roughly a half-million Israeli settlers in the occupied territories (including East Jerusalem) make the creation of a contiguous Palestinian state an almost impossible mission. So, is the renewed vigor of US President Barack Obama’s administration in the quest for peace too little, too late?

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu claims that his government has no preconditions for resuming negotiations with the Palestinians. Meanwhile, his housing minister, Uri Ariel (himself a settler and a member of the annexationist Jewish Home party), unleashes a new wave of settlement expansion that threatens to link the 1967 border with the Jordan Valley, thus bisecting Palestinian territory. Netanyahu’s own insistence on “ironclad” security arrangements is a euphemism for an Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley – and no return to the “Auschwitz borders” of 1967.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is too weak and too burdened by his rivalry with the hard-line Islamist Hamas – which rules in Gaza – to allow himself the political luxury of departing from the core demands of Palestinian nationalism. Nor does Netanyahu, an ideologue who is visibly uncomfortable with his forced support of the two-state idea, truly have a governing coalition for peace.

Thus, US Secretary of State John Kerry will require great deal of creativity to reconcile Netanyahu’s position and the Palestinian precondition, recently reiterated by Abbas’s close associate Nabil Shaath, that Israel must agree to negotiate on the basis of the 1967 borders. Mahmoud Al-Habbash, the Palestinian minister of religious affairs, even went so far as to demand “assurances that the talks won’t fail,” because if they do, a new intifada would surely erupt.