The fact that the current Mideast peace talks are over — but for the bickering over who is to blame — is a shame, if not a tragedy. But it is certainly not a surprise. For all of Secretary of State Kerry’s energetic efforts since last summer in trying to revive a comatose situation, the fact remains that while Israel was, and is, prepared to make major compromises for peace, the Palestinian leadership is not.
Few outside of Israel appreciate the painful sacrifice Israel made three separate times in releasing dozens of prisoners, a number of whom were responsible for the murder of Israeli men, women and children. That enormous concession was made simply to get the Palestinian Authority to the table. Once there, its leaders said “no” to every major point, chief among them recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, compromising on “the right of return” (which would lead to Israel losing its Jewish majority) and acknowledging that the conclusion of an agreement would put an end to the conflict.
In truth, the negotiations were not direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians. For the last six months they were conducted with Washington as the intermediary, and no matter how hard Kerry and his team tried to broker a deal, there was zero trust between the Jerusalem and Ramallah. As Kerry has acknowledged in recent days, there is only so much a third party can do in such a situation; the two sides have to want to make a deal happen for it to have a successful outcome.
Many today in Israel are saying “I told you so,” at least to themselves, over’s Kerry’s failure to achieve what so many other statesmen have tried to do over the last 20 years. All have been defeated by a reality they seemed unwilling to recognize. But the fact remains that the crux of the conflict is not about settlements or borders or the other specific issues debated endlessly. It’s about acknowledging that the Jews have a right to a state of their own in the region.
What is particularly troubling is that the mainstream U.S. media, taking its signal from Kerry himself, blamed Israel for the stalemate. In his testimony on Capitol Hill last week the secretary said the “poof” moment came when, after delaying the release of the last batch of prisoners, Israel announced building plans in the territories. How disappointing. And unfair.
First, the plans were to build in Gilo, a Jerusalem neighborhood that would remain in Israel’s hands in any peace agreement. More importantly, PA President Abbas, though he was praised weeks before as a willing partner by President Obama, resisted all attempts for serious compromise. And then he made a mockery of the negotiations by announcing his move to bypass the talks and look to the United Nations for statehood recognition.
In the end, though, the Palestinians want land, and only Israel can give it to them. If and when the Palestinian leaders are ready to deal with the reality of an Israel in their midst — and only then — can the conflict be resolved.