Who’s Afraid of the Palestinians? by Hussein Agha and Robert Malley
During the last two years, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process has suffered serious setbacks. Other than for a brief, fleeting moment, Israelis and Palestinians have had no direct political contact and there is little hope, for now at least, that this will change. Any faith Israelis and Palestinians may have in the possibility of an agreement is collapsing.
Benjamin Netanyahu; drawing by John Springs
The US, sponsor of that process, has seen its credibility badly damaged. The Obama administration was repeatedly rebuffed—by Israel, from whom it had demanded a full halt in settlement construction; by Palestinians it pressed to engage in direct negotiations; by Arab states it hoped would take steps to normalize relations with Israel. An administration that never tires of saying it cannot want peace more than the parties routinely belies that claim by the desperation it exhibits in pursuing that goal. Today, there is little trust, no direct talks, no settlement freeze, and, one at times suspects, not much of a US policy.
Less visible but equally grievous is the growing loss of interest in negotiations on the part of Israeli and Palestinian leaders. Two years ago, Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, was somewhat confident that, with a strong US push, Israel could be convinced to reach a historic deal. Since then, his confidence has been fading. Benjamin Netanyahu began his prime ministership in March 2009 with an ambivalent commitment and apparently little motivation to reach a peace deal with the Palestinians. During the period that followed, his commitment and motivation significantly diminished. For both leaders, facing publics more disenchanted than they are, it has become a political liability to project belief that negotiations can yield something. Without genuine engagement by the leaders, progress in the talks—direct, indirect, or otherwise—will be unattainable.