Settlements and Peace: An Introduction


Howard Adelman

Based on the interviews of the Yedioth Ahronoth journalist, Mahum Barnea, with unnamed American officials who were active in the talks, Larry Derfner wrote an article called, “U.S post-mortem on peace talks: Israel killed them,” that was first published in +972, a blog based web magazine redistributed by the Foundation for Middle East Peace (FMEP) which I use as one prime source for my information on Israeli settlement activity as well as the information provided by the Israel Bureau of Statistics.

The latter has to be used as well because, as I wrote in yesterday’s blog, FMEP since it was founded in 1979 had held the position that settlements are the greatest obstacle to peace. The founder, Merle Thorpe Jr., has never budged from that position put forth in the 1984 book, Report on Israeli Settlements in the Occupied Territories. Though I appreciate Geoffrey Aronson’s updates on settlement activity, and though I have always opposed settlement activity in the West Bank, as readers know, I have not found the argument that settlements are the key block to peace to be compelling. I have found it to be less compelling rather than more so as time goes on.

Based on these interviews, FMEP believes it has the definitive goods for its case. Further, the case is supported by other reports of B’Tselem, Peace Now and other leaks that the Martin Indyk American team blamed Israel for scuppering the talks because of its settlement activities. What is the case in support of that argument. 

First, in initiating settlement activity in the West Bank during the talks, the activity may not have been helpful for either peace or Israeli public relations. However, a freeze on settlements was not a precondition for the talks proceeding. Everyone agreed, but you would never know that if you did a survey of general public opinion.

However, the Americans claimed that not making a freeze a precondition was their big mistake. It prevented a re-alignment of the Israeli cabinet that would have backed the peace progress. Second, the right wing Housing and Construction Minister, Uri Ariel, could sabotage the talks by announcements of housing starts in the West Bank. No one ever makes clear how announcing housing starts could undercut the peace talks when a freeze was not a precondition of the peace talks. The explanation proffered: a de facto freeze was expected if not a de jure part of the agreement in restarting the talks.   

How do we evaluate whether the continued settlement activity sabotaged the talks? According to the leaked debriefing, the John Kerry team placed virtually all of the blame for the failure of the talks on the Israeli side citing the announcement of 14,000 new settlement housing tenders and a massive expropriation of West Bank land for building these settlements. The figure of 14,000 settlement units came from Peace Now in the final week of the scheduled talks when everyone had acknowledged that the talks had been a failure. How does information coming after the implosion of the talks cause of that implosion? Everyone presumably could count. Peace Now apparently merely added it all up. claiming that Israel had “promoted plans or approved tenders for nearly 14,000 new settler homes on occupied Palestinian land during the nine months of peace talks,” activities that were at an unprecedented scale compared to the past twenty years. For example, in Netanyahu’s first term as Prime Minister, only 1,385 settler homes per year had been approved, just a few less than the number approved by Ehud Olmert. However, during the peace talks, Netanyahu broke all previous construction records.

The  facts are otherwise as I will document tomorrow. I want to present the argument in full first but I will summarize the evidence. First, yjough over 10,000 were authorized, the total did not add up to 14,000.. Far fewer were actually built. Third, the numbers were not unprecedented but along the norms over the last 15 years, though much larger than the last few years when housing approvals and starts were at their lowest point. Both the Israeli left and the Israeli right seem to have strong vested interests in exaggerating the figures on housing starts in the West Bank. And American officials have accepted those figures on face value. 

No one blames Tzipi Livni. She is regarded as a heroine in the talks. However, Tzipi Livni exclusively lays the blame on the Palestinians and also defends Netanyahu against the charge of insincerity in trying to advance a two-state solution. So if the settlement activities scuppered the talks, why is Livni not onside in that criticism? Alternatively, why is she not included in the targets worthy of blame? A hint comes from understanding the reading of history by the various parties. The Americans interviewed read the twenty year history prior to the talks as a litany of Israeli betrayal leaving an embittered and frustrated Abu Mazen – Mahmoud Abbas – the Palestinian Authority president. In their view, he did not fail to conclude a deal with Barack or with Olmert when the latter two made what were widely regarded as highly generous offers. Rather, Israel betrayed Abbas once again not only in building more houses in the West Bank but recently in failing to release the final 26 Israeli Palestinian prisoners.

What is left out is that Netanyahu did not refuse. He only said he would postpone the release of prisoners with “blood on their hands” until such time as Abbas agreed to continue the peace talks, especially the 14 of the 26 who were Israeli Arabs. When the peace talks were aborted two weeks later, the failure to release the prisoners could be blamed as well as the housing starts in the West Bank and Gaza, or Netanyahu could be lauded for being prescient though also blamed for the earlier releases when he allegedly received nothing in return – also not quite accurate..

The key historical position that the Americans took was that Oslo was merely used as a vehicle by the Israelis to further Israeli settlement activity. Abbas had enough. He was not willing to put up with it anymore. So the question is why did he agree to enter into the talks if a settlement freeze was not a condition of the talks?  Abbas had other complaints. While he agreed to a limited period for continued Israeli security control to be followed by substituting Americans, Netanyahu wanted unlimited security control with no time limits. The Americans agreed that Netanyahu was flexible, but argued that he only budged an inch. They also agreed that Abbas was very rigid, but somehow they symathized with his rigidity.

Abbas argued that he had made many concessions in the past that were not acknowledged or reciprocated. De facto he had given up n refugee return. He had agreed to a de-militarized state. He had agreed to allow Israel to hold onto some territory for security purposes in the Jordan Valley for five years. He had agreed that the Jewish neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem would remain part of sovereign Israel. The Americans have also correctly applauded Abbas on security within Palestine controlled areas of the West Bank for he not only “consistently reiterated his commitment to nonviolence and recognition of the State of Israel,” but also supported a very effective “security program involving disarmament of fugitive [Palestinian] militants, arresting [Palestinian] members of terrorist organizations and gradually dismantling [Palestinian] armed groups in the West Bank.”

However, Abbas refused to consider recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, a concession that Arafat had once made,. Though the Americans believed he should have budged on that, a formula was available to finesse such recognition without an explicit statement by recognizing the resolutions that divided mandate Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state. 

Abbas has said that he will restart negotiations, but only on condition there is a freeze on settlement activity for three months during which the final borders of the two states would be determined. That is not the condition that creates any real obstacle, particularly since housing initiatives can be announced quarterly. His other pre-condition for resuming the talks is the problem – Israel must agree that it will recognize Arab East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine. While both Barack and Olmert had been willing to do so with the exclusion of the Old City, Netanyahu has been unwilling to go even that far. I do not know whether this is a rigid position or whether he holds it because he is unwilling to go down the same road as Barack and Olmert only to be rejected in the end, but this difference does feed my argument that the key blockage is Jerusalem.

Let’s examine the various claims that the key blockage was the settlements in this alleged debriefing of the Americans – which I have no reason to believe is not accurate – an argument echoed by FMEP, Peace Now, B’tselem and feature writers for Haaretz. Ze’ev Schiff in his 2003 article, “Israel’s Policies on Settlements and Outposts” eleven years ago, on 9 May during the second intifada, noted that Israel had established 66 outposts, 24 since the beginning of the armed intifada., the vast majority legally flawed not simply in terms of international law but in terms of property ownership and Israeli law. 35 of the “illegal” outposts were evacuated and orders had been issued to evacuate another 30.

Reality was, however, very different. While outposts were being dismantled – not nearly as many as the targeted number – more outposts were being established than the ones taken down. The vast majority of outposts then were already illegal according to Israeli law since they were built on private Arab-owned land without any authority or land purchase. The Israeli defence establishment could not keep up with the efforts of the settlers and the prolonged legal battles over each outpost, much to the embarrassment of Shimon Peres and his agreement with Colin Powell.

This has changed. According to Israelis involved in government over a decade ago, there was an American-Israeli understanding that a) no new settlements would be established; b) existing settlements would not be expanded, even as a result of natural population growth; c) settlements could be consolidated by filling in within the borders of those settlements. Publicly, Americans have always denied that such an understanding exists since, on the official record, Americans have pronounced ALL settlement activities as illegal. However, the final status of the settlements would be determined in the final peace agreement.

Further, there has been an additional development in addition to curtailing outposts that is perhaps even more important. In the April 30 US State Department annual 2013 terrorism report, that includes documentation on the destructive and intimidating actions of settlers against Palestinians and their property, now not only in the West Bank but in Israel as well, since 2012, Israeli Minister of Internal Security Yitzhak Aharonovitch has adopted a zero-tolerance policy towards these terrorist acts and formed a special unit to eliminate them, an initiative that has recorded considerable success. However, even though the zero tolerance policy has not yet approached the efforts of Abbas in the areas he controls to manage Arab terrorism, even though the litany of attacks against Arab persons and property, cutting down and destroying mature groves of olive trees by vigilante extremists, reads or should read like marks of shame for any Jew, there has finally been some progress. In part, the success is also due to the Palestinian villagers themselves who have formed defense units instead of relying on militant forces that ended up holding the villagers themselves up for ransom.

Ignoring the millions of dollars spent in support of separate infrastructure projects or on development of Israeli settlement employment, especially in industries that use the West Bank to build environmentally polluting facilities that escape the stringent environmental Israeli guidelines, what is the actual record of settlement activity just before and during the just aborted peace talks? What was the response to those activities? Whatever the activities and whatever the response, did the building of more housing units in existing settlements destroy the talks? What is clear is that the argument is no longer over illegal outposts. That activity has been significantly reined in. The argument is focused on the role of housing announcements and actual construction on the peace process itself. Did those activities play the major role in blowing apart the peace talks?

Tomorrow: The Actual Data on Settlements and the Effects on the Peace Talks


Abbas and Netanyahu

Abbas and Netanyahu


Howard Adelman 

The Palestinian-Israeli peace talks under the auspices of the Americans were on the verge of collapse. But collapse does not mean that the talks were ending. Instead of engaging in a real ritual death dance over the demise of their respective greatest hopes and a revival of their greatest fears, the two leaders of Palestine and Israel respectively demonstrate quite clearly that both parties are committed to shadow boxing rather than wrestling with one another.

Under the Kerry non-traditional approach to negotiations, instead of dancing around on the periphery and dealing with soluble issues like negotiations over sharing water as confidence building measures, the two parties were to focus on the core issues that stood in the way of an agreement: the disposition of East Jerusalem and particularly the Old City with the Golden Dome and the great Mosque as well as the Western Wall and the Jewish Quarter; the drawing of other borders and the disposition of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank; the question of refugees and the right of return; the security arrangements.   

It may be hard to believe, but in three years Palestinians will have lived under occupation for fifty years – for half a century. It took an enormous amount of time, decades, for the two peoples. Palestinians and Jews – or at least a majority of them, though a larger majority among the Jews than among the Palestinians – to give up on the idea of vanquishing one another and, instead, accepting the idea that the two peoples could and should and would live side by side one another in two separate states governing portions of the land. No mutual solution could be envisaged in which one party became the ruling nation over all the land and the other was allowed to live there as a tolerated minority. And the ideal of two nations sharing the land and a single state remained only as the delusion of either utopian dreamers or a tricky but hardly hidden device for one nation to achieve predominance under the illusion that Palestinians and Jews were just individual humans with only individual and no collective rights. 

Further, though the gross numbers of the populace in each nation were not dissimilar, Israelis as victors inherit 78% of the land and Palestinians only get 22%, a seemingly very bitter pill for the losing party to swallow except when actual populations on the ground are considered – 2.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank versus 8.6 million Israelis (6.1 million Jews and 2.5 million non-Jews, most non-Jews being Palestinians). Previous negotiations demonstrate that most Palestinians have swallowed that pill. But they also demonstrated that the Palestinians adamantly refuse to swallow any more. And the minority of Jewish Israelis who are eager to swallow more of the land eagerly point to the Palestinian militant resistance and those who refuse to accept this accommodation at all.  Thus the Palestinian and Israeli militants mirror one another and serve each other up as reasons why no deal can ever be made.

However, that is not the explanation that both parties are now engaged in shadow boxing rather than either a draw or a final fight to the finish – which the international community would not tolerate for a variety of both hypocritical and sincere reasons. Let me first demonstrate that both parties are engaged in shadow boxing rather than in pacific wrestling with one another. I begin with a brief explanation of shadow boxing. As the name suggests, each fighter boxes not with an opponent but by themselves. There is no recipient for the punches thrown. Shadow boxing is useful in refining timing and perfecting technique but plays absolutely no role in determining outcomes. Shadow boxing is a warm up exercise not even for the main bout but for preparing to enter the ring in the first place. In shadow boxing, the concern of each party is not with landing the right blow but with projecting his own rhythm and identity and how the party appears a boxer. Shadow boxing is not a facsimile of real boxing. It is not sparring but a dance form of non-engagement with the other and absolute engagement with oneself and one’s own appearance to improve one’s style and rhythm. Each practices drills rather than engagement.

In boxing, there are two different styles of engaging in shadow exercises. Muhammad Ali used shadow boxing to perfect his musical shuffle as his body keened forward and backwards and his long reach alternated with short but punitive jabs and straight shots to the head. A fighter disadvantaged by height, weight, reach or speed tends to practice a very different style – huddling and crouching and shifting his torso from one side to another. His movements are left and right rather than forward or back as he searches for openings and opportunities to jar his opponent with surprise punches slipped through openings that appear and disappear with the blink of an eye. The long method of the former style of shadow boxing is an exercise in strategic engagement. The short style of the disadvantaged opponent requires a more slippery and tactical rather than strategic approach in which muscle, weight and willingness to receive punishing blows count more than finesse. Once an opening is found, the fighter pummels away as rapidly and furiously as possible to take advantage of the situation. The latter style is exemplified by Mike Tyson versus Muhammad Ali.

When Mahmoud Abbas announced that if talks end on 29 April without an extension, he promised that he would never appear in the ring again and would force the Israeli government as the occupying authority to take responsibility for the citizens of the West Bank. He promised to dissolve the Palestinian Authority if the peace talks were not renewed. Since such threats have been uttered at least a half a dozen times before, and since his main rival, Nabil Amir, a former adviser, and his lead negotiator, Saib Erekat, both openly ridiculed the idea, it is too easy to dismiss Abbas’ threat. But when viewed as an exercise in shadow boxing, it is Abbas’ long jab. He is just flailing for everyone knows how much the Palestinians are dependent on international donations. The USA is the largest single contributor. And that is precisely why he made the lunge. He did not want to be weighed with the responsibility of ending the talks.

His second short and powerful jab was meant to reinforce his alignment with John Kerry. He insisted that if the talks are extended a further nine months, the first three months should focus on final borders, which would mean focussing on Jerusalem, the central issue still in contention.

At the time Abbas was setting out his conditions for renewing negotiations – and expressing his sincerity in following up with John Kerry’s priorities – Azzam al-Ahmad, a senior Fatah official, was leaving for Gaza for the first time since 2007, when Hamas evicted the PLO from the Gaza strip, to try to forge the basis for ending the division within the Palestinian camp, but ending it on a basis in which those opposed to any deal with Israel would be within  a single overarching tent. Since those Israelis opposed to the talks continually cited the divisions among the Palestinians as one reason the talks were futile, while others said that if the rejectionists were included within the Palestinian Authority, it meant the talks could go nowhere – putting the Palestinians in a no win situation, the PLO effort to answer Prime Minster Ismail Hamiyeh’s invitation to find a basis for national reconciliation to forge one government and one political agenda could be interpreted as either answering that primary criticism or as a final nail in the prospect of a successful conclusion of the talks since Hamas has been labelled a terrorist organization by many Western governments as well as Israel. Netanyahu informed the Austrian Prime Minister, Sebastian Kurz, that the PA could either negotiate with Israel or reconcile with Hamas, but not do both.

Unless, of course, Hamas has given up its opposition to making a deal with Israel and has agreed to renounce terror – a previously far–fetched idea but not an impossible one given that Hamas has been outflanked on the terror front by Islamic Jihad and given the economic perils in Gaza especially following the Egyptian military government’s enforcement of the closure of the tunnels. That would mean that the rumours that the two sides had developed a power-sharing formula and agreed to forge a common front in dealing with Israel, the other main block to a united front. New elections are evidently promised in the next six months. More importantly, it would mean Hamas had given up being Hamas and had renounced terror and the reliance on armed struggle – even if only while negotiations are underway, and, even more importantly, if it would have to accept the Quartet’s bottom line – recognition of the State of Israel if a new National Unity Government was to be able to continue negotiations with Israel.

Clearly, the PLO has developed not only a fallback position in addition to its international initiatives with the UN but a forward strategy in negotiations with Israel to counter balance Naftali Bennett’s forceful presence in the Israeli cabinet. This fallback position includes providing full backing for the BDS campaign against Israel which Abbas alluded to in citing it as an indicator that at least the Europeans had become supporters of the Palestinian cause. Of course, there are the other conditions, release of the final group of 26 of the 104 prisoners as promised, a benefit of the talks the PLO is loathe to forfeit, and a freeze on settlements, this time not only in the West Bank but in those portions of Jerusalem across the old Green Line, including Gilo, an accession that would mean that the growth of Jerusalem would be virtually stalled in its tracks if the government acceded to that demand and, therefore, an unlikely concession even if only for the next nine months or, as Abbas hinted, even for just three more months. This is clearly a new demand since the talks up to now were based on Israel being allowed to build in areas which the PLO previously conceded would be part of Israel in a future deal.

On the border issue, Abbas indicated that he was not just interested in preparatory discussions. He wanted a firm offer on the table from Israel – putting the ball totally in the Israeli court since the Palestinian opening salvo was always a return to the old Green Line, an impossible starting point that presumes that Israel had been totally wasted in the Six Day War by the Palestinians. Further, he rejected not only any return to the use of violence and a resumption of a third intifada, but insisted the security arrangements with Israel would continue whether or not the talks resume. The option that the late Faisal Husseini had advocated of renouncing violence and adopting non-violence as the modus operandi of the PLO had finally become the official wisdom informing Fatah if not PLO strategy. In that context, Abbas condemned the killing of the Israeli Police Chief Superintendent, Baruch Mizrachi, on the first night of Passover near Hebron while remarking snidely that Israel has not expressed any regret for the many Palestinians killed.

Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu predictably dismissed Abbas’ offers as just gestures aimed at preventing the talks from going ahead, but it was just as clear that his shuffling back and forth and relying on the same small repertoire of quick jabs and long punches were just efforts at shadow boxing but with a radically different style. He too did not want to be blamed by the Americans for sabotaging the talks. On the other hand, though he now accepts a two-state solution, he adamantly opposes the division of Jerusalem and allowing the Palestinian Authority to make East Jerusalem its capital, a position that John Kerry and Martin Indyk have both accepted if there is to be a peace agreement. Netanyahu will have to show some very fancy footwork if he is not to be blamed for destroying the talks. The shadow boxing has become negotiations by another means.

There are very positive signs in all the shadow boxing. The refugee issue and the right of return, which had been such a major source of blockage in the past, is no longer front and centre. Clearly past formulas, at least in outline, have been accepted by both sides for resolving the issue. Lest it re-emerge, Netanyahu is understandably reluctant to make Jerusalem and borders the centre of discussion for the next three months.  On the other hand, Netanyahu is faced with his own domestic pressures from his left as well as his right. For Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid has now clearly signalled that his party would sooner rather than later drop out of the coalition if the talks with the Palestinians cease. However, Naftali Bennett of Bayit Yehudi has threatened to bolt if the prisoners are released when the talks seem to promise only failure, though Avigdor Liberman pooh-poohed Bennet’s threats even more vigorously than Ekrat dumped on Abbas’ threat to abandon the Palestinian Authority for direct governance by Israel of the West Bank. Besides, Bennett’s second-in-command, Uri Ariel, currently the Construction and Housing Minster, had already signalled the basis of a compromise – stripping the citizenship of Israeli Arabs released from prison and expelling them.

Will the shadow boxing lead to a new round of peace talks or are the efforts of both sides clear signs of failure? My main message is that shadow boxing is merely training for the main event, an effort at posturing and self-indentification. There is not encounter, merely mutual display. The display is sufficient to predict the talks will continue even if the 29 April deadline is not met. If they do, Netanyahu will find himself in a very perilous position, far more perilous than Abbas.

Postscript on Israeli-Palestinian Talks: Future Scenarios

Postscript on the Israeli-Palestinian Talks: Future Scenarios


Howard Adelman


Akiva Eldar, co-author of the best seller Lords of the Land on the Jewish settlements, is now a columnist for Al-Monitor’s Israel Pulse. For years he was the senior political columnist and editorial writer for Haaretz. He also served as its US bureau chief and diplomatic correspondent. We spoke on the phone yesterday in a communal telephone call courtesy of Americans for Peace Now. (

Akiva opened the conversation with a comment on Bibi Netanyahu’s statement at  the Saban Forum in Washington this past Saturday linking the Israeli-Palestinian talks with what happens on the Iranian front. This linkage could be interpreted in at least two opposite ways. First, it could mean that if progress could be made on the Iran front, then it would encourage progress on the Israeli-Palestinian talks. However, Netanyahu posed the opposite linkage and threatened that the I-P talks will come to nothing if the Geneva agreement stays in place and proves itself the great historical mistake he prophesied and Iran is given a license to build a bomb.

Netanyahu often cites the Islamic republic’s repeated talk of Israel’s destruction as a reason to be more cautious in peacemaking with the Palestinians. “Our aspiration for peace is liable to be severely affected if Iran succeeds” in winning a relaxation of penalties that have devastated its economy, he said in an Oct. 23 Twitter message. The linkage is then negative, not positive. (See the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg News –…/palestinian-peace-talksiranian-accord.html, 2013-11-25 and…· Israeli-Palestinian peace talks may suffer collateral damage from the accord world powers reached with Iran. With the weekend agreement in Geneva, “Netanyahu probably won’t feel a strong commitment anymore to negotiating with the Palestinians under American supervision,” said Yoram Meital, chairman of the ChaimHerzogCenter for Middle East Studies and Diplomacy at Ben-GurionUniversity in Beersheba, Israel. “He’s not going to announce this publicly, but he’s never shown much enthusiasm for the talks.”

As an aside, Akiva was asked about the denial by Dan Shapiro, the US  Ambassador to Israel, whether he insisted that there was no linkage. (Cf. “US ambassador rejects talk of Iran-Palestinian ‘linkage’: “While some Israeli officials endorse the connection, Dan Shapiro says peace process has no bearing on efforts to deny Iran the bomb.”, Akiva remonstrated Dan Shapiro for not being in closer touch with the State Department and the White House where he insisted that both Kerry and Obama made such a linkage, even though an unnamed State Department official insisted that Kerry saw no linkage between the two sets of talks. Further, the Israeli papers insisted that Obama made a linkage (, but, in fact, Obama was simply stating that there was a commonality in both talks since both were concerned with reducing the level of violence in the middle east. He was NOT linking the two causally in any way. (…linkage-of-iran-andisraelipalestinian-peace)

Why is the issue of a linkage important? Because if the linkage is negative, it means that Netanyahu is more determined than ever to sabotage the Israeli-Palestinian talks. In other words, the linkage is not between the talks per se but in the reactions of various parties to the success or failure of each set of talks. However, this is not the linkage that Akiva suggested.

While applauding the fact that Netanyahu now acceded to a linkage that he had previously denied, Akiva interpreted Netanyahu’s actions as an attempt to throw a wrench into the peace talks but in a different way than suggested above. Bibi’s red line on the Iranian talks was too demanding and could never produce an agreement through diplomatic means acceptable to his Israeli government since it would mean Iran giving up both its nuclear and enrichment program altogether. Netanyahu wants Iran to surrender and to be humiliated to boot. The linkage was an intention to sabotage and undercut BOTH sets of talks.

Akiva suggested that the dependency between the two sets of talks went the other way, that progress on the Israeli-Palestinian talks would facilitate a rapprochement with Iran. Further, as Akiva interpreted Bibi’s position on the peace talks, Bibi was still determined that the talks go nowhere and remained wedded to a stalling and obstructionist participation. The Iran talks are dependent on the Israeli-Palestinian talks because the latter are not just about security for the Jewish state but are intended to alter the relations between Israel and the Palestinians and put an end to Iranian support of terrorism in the Middle East. The nuclear talks with Iran are the entry point to a wider campaign for peace in the whole Middle East.

Akiva and I agree on the following:

1. The Israeli-Palestinian peace talks are at a new stage as they approach the final trimester of the nine month schedule (to end by the end of April), and that John Kerry and Barack Obama will not be content with saying they gave it their best efforts and walk away; they are determined to succeed.

2. These talks are intended to end the conflict, end the occupation, the expansion of the settlements, settle the division of Jerusalem, the return of refugees and define the borders; there is to be a final agreement even if the agreement is intended to be implemented in stages; As David Markovsky, who recently joined Kerry’s negotiating team on the Israeli-Palestinian talks has written, “The only way to deal with the settlement issue is to render it moot by widening it to peacemaking and heading straight into the final negotiations on territory.”

3. The new security proposals that the Americans put on the table (but only after previous discussions with both Abbas and Netanyahu) accepted the Jordan River as the border of Palestine, therefore eliminating the possibility of an Israeli presence if Palestinian sovereignty was to be respected.

4. In the third phase of the talks, 26 more Palestinians of the original 4,446 held in detention are due to be released; Kerry and Obama do not want blood on their hands if those released resume their previous militancy; therefore, with the prisoner releases, the stakes in a successful outcome have been raised enormously.  

For Akiva, Netanyahu has been in such a big and noisy row with the United States over the Iran talks because his red line means that the talks would be doomed to failure for no Iranian regime would accept total destruction of its nuclear enrichment program and loss of all its centrifuges. Bibi was counting on the divisions between the White House and Congress to allow him to exploit those differences and sabotage the Iranian talks. It has not worked. this time.

On the Palestinian peace front, to succeed a deal needs to be struck soon with the last few months used to tweak the details. Further, this is a last chance since Abbas is 76 years old. If Netanyahu refuses to go along with the deal and surrenders to or agrees with the pressures from his right wing partners in the government. Livni and Lapid will leave the government and a new government will have to be formed. Since the Israeli partnership with the USA is not simply a foundation for Israeli foreign policy but an existential condition of Israel’s continued existence, a political war between the Israeli government and Israel would be a disaster for Israel and might propel Israel to move away and reject the right drift. 

Here is where I disagree with Akiva while granting that Akiva knows much more about Netanyahu’s personality and motives than I will ever know. He sees Netanyahu as a staunch and determined old Likudnik unwilling to surrender control of the West Bank. Any optimism about Netanyahu ignores the main goal of this enterprise as Akiva has written — “to entrench Israeli control over the territory while damaging the collective and individual rights of Palestinians.” For Akiva, “The time has come for Makovsky and his colleagues on the American peace team to understand that the settlement policy is not ‘foolishness.’ It is an intentional, clear and winning policy.”

In contrast, I see Netanyahu more as a pragmatist coming from the right but unwilling to sacrifice his political future and his legacy for dated and no longer realizable right wing expansionist ideals. Further, Kerry and Obama can both count. They need a number on the right to support the deal if it is not to blow up in their faces. So if Lapid and Livni leave the government and the government falls, Netanyahu will lose both his political future and his legacy. I agree that Lapid and Livni will not stay in the government if Netanyahu sabotages the peace talks. That is why I suggest that Netanyahu will support the results of the talks.

The Israeli-Palestinian Peace Talks

The Israeli-Palestinian Peace Talks


Howard Adelman

Are the peace talks led by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu`s special envoy, Isaac Molho, for the Israelis, and  Saeb Erekat and Mohammad Shtayyeh for the Palestinians, headed for a comprehensive peace deal, a bust, an extension or interim measures?  What are the prospects of arriving at a deal on water, security, settlements, mutual recognition, borders, Jerusalem and refugees?

Since the start of the negotiations and the prisoner release on 29 July 2013, the talks began with a rocky start when Israel approved the construction of 1096 settlement units in the West Bank, 63 new units in East Jerusalem, and then an additional 900 units in East Jerusalem in mid-August just after talks began. In spite of this initial flurry of activities and mutual recriminations, the Palestinian-Israeli negotiators have met an additional eleven times since the opening of the talks, four times in August, four times in September and four times in October, three very recently on the 18th in Jerusalem, the 20th in Jericho and the 21st in Jerusalem once again. Martin Indyk, the former American ambassador to Israel and the head of American Secretary of State John Kerry`s advisory team, actively participated in the flurry of recent talks.

Most recently, on Wednesday the 23d, John Kerry met with Netanyahu in a very long meeting in Rome following talks Kerry had with the Europeans, the Saudis, and the Arab League, each with their own special issues quite separate from the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations – American spying on European leaders, American talks with Iran against Saudi vehement opposition, and America`s equivocal dealings with the new Egyptian military government. It was not clear what instigated the long meeting in Rome, but it did not seem unrelated to the letter that Netanyahu released the day before congratulating the Jewish visitors to Hebron to honour their matriarch on the reading of the parashat this week depicting Sarah’s death and burial. Netanyahu wrote: “I hope that the ‘Hebron Shabbat,’ with its thousands of participants, will deepen our connection to the city of our forefathers”. Even though the talks were to focus almost exclusively on the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, the Rome meeting almost certainly spent a bit of time on the positive news emerging from the Iranian-American talks on nuclear weapons if only to assuage Netanyahu`s fears that a deal would be struck before Iran took positive steps to end its nuclear enrichment program and make arrangements for its enriched stockpile.

The Americans leaked that the purpose of the Rome talks was to pin down Netanyahu on the compromises that he is prepared to make on the final status issues as the talks pass the one-third mark on the nine month promised deadline. What compromises are expected? The deal on water is already in the bag and has been for years, secured more recently since Israel has a surplus of gas from its Mediterranean fields and is able to desalinate water to produce surpluses to sell to the Palestinians.

The security aspect of the agreement will build on the successful cooperation between the Israelis and the Palestinians as evidenced most recently on Tuesday with the Shin Bet slaying of Mohammed Assi, 28, one of the Islamic Jihad Tel Aviv bus bombers in 2012, who was trapped in a cave near the village of Bilin in the West Bank. The solution to the security issue is also connected with the recent progress on the ground of Israeli-Egyptian cooperation in shutting down the tunnels and taking action against Hamas militants in the Sinai. Evidently, Israel has been very influential in helping Egypt obtain from the USA equipment to enhance Egypt`s counter-insurgency capabilities.

On settlements, Israel has made clear that it has no intention of limiting its building of residential units in areas of East Jerusalem and the West Bank already intended to be part of the exchange of territory between Israel and Palestine and it is likely that the exchange of territory will have to come close to parity in restoring the same amount of non-Israeli land occupied by the Palestinians in 1967 and not 94 or 97 or even 99%. Border adjustment, though not an easy issue, is no longer an intractable one, especially since, in practice, certain areas are already clearly Israeli or Palestinian. The key issue will be what happens to the settlements that will remain on Palestinian lands to be transferred to the new Palestinian government. There will be no attempt to massively empty the settlements as was carried out in Gaza. Instead, the settlers on Palestinian lands will likely be given a generous economic package to repatriate to Israeli land or to live under Palestinian rule if they so choose, though Palestinians remain adamant that all settlements should be vacated.

This leaves the three tough issues. The Palestinians will not accede to Netanyahu`s demands that they recognize Israel as a Jewish state for they see that as a betrayal of both Palestinian-Israeli citizens as well as undermining their claims on behalf of the refugees. Netanyahu might give up on this explicit declaration in return for some implicit concession as well as an agreement on protection for the settlers who wish to continue to live under Palestinian rule.

The Jerusalem issue is also no longer as intractable as it once was given the current practices of Israelis of avoiding travelling into Palestine residential areas. Certainly, the temple mount will fall under some super-national authority with agreements on archeological arrangements. Whether this agreement extends to include other holy sites, whether the boundaries of a super-national jurisdiction go beyond the temple mount and extend to the Arab parts of the Old City, or whether the problem will be disaggregated along functional lines, I have no idea. However, given the extent of the enormous amount of work and maps already developed, this remains a tough but no longer impossible issue to overcome.

The biggest issue remains Palestinian refugee return – not actual return since very few are expected to return and Israel has been adamant that it will not accede to anything but a humanitarian gesture in this area. The issue has been and remains how to grant a right of return but a right which can never be exercised as a right. Past efforts to square this circle have constantly floundered. The other serious worry is that insufficient preparations have been undertaken on the compensation issue in spite of an enormous accumulation of international precedents not only re the Jews in Europe but with all the discussions of various groups that have been `cleansed`. Unlike the right of return issue which goes to fundamental identity claims by the Palestinians, the compensation issue is a practical one which can flounder if insufficient attention is paid to working out the concrete details. Further, to the extent those details can be settled, the more likely the Palestinians will be in a position to accept an equivocal agreement on the right of return.

I myself remain pessimistic that an agreement can be reached over the next six months, but such a deal no longer resides in never never land and has moved into the arena of possibilism.