By the end of today we will know what will happen next in the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Here are some of my scenarios and some links that provide some thoughtful insight:
1. The Peace talks collapse because Israel refuses to extend building freeze in West Bank. While there is some talk that the Palestinians will continue the Direct Talks even absent a freeze on settlement construction, the latest reports indicate Abbas will end the talks and resign if the U.S. is unable to pressure Netanyahu to agree to at least a partial freeze.
2. Netanyahu Agrees to a Partial Freeze and Peace Talks Continue:
This seems unlikely unless Netanyahu gets some major concession from President Obama such as the release of U.S. spy Jonathan Pollard. This would be a very risky move for Obama as Pollard is considered by many in the U.S. military and intelligence communities as possibly the worst spy in U.S. history. His release would likely cause resignations by several high up U.S. intelligence officials.
My sense is that Abbas will stay in the Direct Talks if he gets some modest reassurance that construction in the West Bank settlements will be limited. His best tactic in my view is to pursue the direct talks until Israel’s position on future boundaries and settlements is pinned down and definite. If Israel’s terms for a final settlement are too unreasonable then a withdrawal from the talks by the Palestinians will seem appropriate and reasonable.
I don’t believe there is any hope for a reasonable solution that both guarantees Israel’s genuine security concerns and provides the Palestinians with a state of their own in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem unless the U.S. is willing to put its foot down and force the Israelis to negotiate in good faith. To do that, the U.S. needs make clear to the Israelis that its settlement project in the West Bank and East Jerusalem is illegal, all of it, that the U.S. cannot support any continuation of the settlements, and that Israel needs to face the fact that it must withdraw from its settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem if it wants to live side-by-side in peace with the Palestinians.
President Obama has repeatedly declared that obtaining a solution to the Israeli-Arab conflict over Palestine is a vital national security interest of the U.S., yet, so far, he has been unwilling to take strong action to force the Israelis to stop settlement construction. Unless he is willing to stand up to Israel and its right-wing Likud lobby in this country, this current attempt to find a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian matter will join past failures and U.S. vital national security interests will continue to be harmed.
President Obama can find inspiration from President Eisenhower who, when faced with strong political opposition from Israel, its U.S. lobby, and Congress, stood tall and forced Israel to withdraw from Egypt’s Sinai after the 1956 Suez war.