“This is the beginning of final-status arrangements on a nine-month timetable,” said State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki as Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams met for the first time in over three years in Washington on Monday.
According to Psaki, “the two sides have agreed to a timetable,” stressing that “it is not a deadline, but an agreement that they will work together for at least this period.”
After an "informal" dinner in Washington marking the end of Ramadam, Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni pronounced that the mood at the table was "very good" and that both sides were "serious" about the forthcoming talks.
Livni made clear to reporters that in an effort to rebuild trust on both sides, all participating parties had agreed to keep information regarding the progress and content of the peace talks secret. [Ed. Note - there are questions over how that decision will mesh with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's promise to bring any peace deal to a national referendum.]
A day earlier, US Secretary of State John Kerry appointed former US Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk as Special Envoy for Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations. Kerry cautioned that what lied ahead was undoubtedly a "difficult process, negotiations are going to be tough...but I also know the consequences of not trying could be worse."
While Kerry labeled Indyk as "a seasoned diplomat" who "knows what has worked and what hasn't worked," the fact that the peace process is so stagnated illustrates that, in fact, nothing from past negotiations has worked. It remains a mystery what these two men believe are the viable bits of past, failed peace efforts.
Indyk played a key role in the Clinton Administration’s multiple unsuccessful pushes to broker peace deals between Israel and Syria and Israel and the Palestinians. It is Indyk, whom Kerry characterized as "realistic," who will be assuming the day-to-day responsibility for keeping the talks alive for the next nine months.
But just 18 months ago in an interview with Israel's Army Radio, even Indyk stated that he was not "particularly optimistic" that future peace talks would succeed.
"I think that the heart of the matter is that the maximum concession that this government of Israel would be prepared to make fall far short of the minimum requirements that Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) will insist on," Indyk said at the time. "Though it may be possible to keep the talks going, which is a good thing, I find it very hard to believe that they will reach an agreement."
Yossi Beilin, a former Israeli government minister and veteran peace activist who notably played a significant role in the secret talks that birthed the "Oslo Accords," believes that reaching a permanent agreement with the Palestinians is "almost impossible."
Speaking at the Jerusalem Press Club this week, Beilin reckoned that an interim agreement was more probable and doable. "An interim solution would likely include a Palestinian state on Areas A and B of the West Bank (currently under Palestinian autonomy), and potentially some parts of Area C (controlled by Israel), while Israel would hold on to the settlement blocs," he asserted.
Beilin explained: "Netanyahu might agree to such a solution; he aims to prevent a bi-national state and thus seeks to separate, demographically, Israelis from Palestinians. And Abbas might agree to a smaller state than he had hoped for, if he realizes that he will be unable to achieve his original goal — a state within the 1967 lines."
However, Beilin believes that if the coming nine months are spent solely on discussing final status issues and the talks fail to yield results, it will be impossible to follow this with negotiations on an interim agreement.
One leader from Israel’s right wing who remained anonymous claimed that whatever the outcome, it’s a win-win strategy for Netanyahu. "If the negotiations miraculously succeed, it’s a win for him. If the negotiations fail, it’s also a win for him because he believes the Americans will blame the Palestinians."
Netanyahu thinks ahead, this source declared. The Israeli leader's argument in nine months may sound something like, "We made painful concessions even before the talks started. It’s the Palestinians who aren’t ready for peace." In this way, in the words of one reporter, Netanyahu could succeed in "turning a diplomatic stillbirth into a child who did no wrong."
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