Peace is so far from being attainable at this stage that Blinken’s efforts this week are unlikely to result in a formal IDF-Hamas ceasefire.
https://www.jpost.com-By TOVAH LAZAROFF
Palestinians sit in a makeshift tent amid the rubble of their houses which were destroyed by Israeli air strikes during the Israel-Hamas fighting in Gaza May 23, 2021. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
(photo credit: MOHAMMED SALEM/REUTERS)
The sudden deluge of world leaders calling for Israeli-Palestinian peace in the aftermath of the IDF-Hamas Gaza war might bring to mind visions of white doves fluttering in the breeze.
Don’t be mistaken by the rhetoric. At best, the sudden focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict after a long period of neglect would reduce the possibility of a fifth Gaza war, but it doesn’t mean that an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is anywhere in sight.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to Israel that begins Tuesday will likely cement the fragile truce that went into effect on May 21, thereby ending the fourth Gaza war, which had lasted for 11 days. Peace is so far from being attainable at this stage that Blinken’s efforts this week are unlikely to result in a formal IDF-Hamas ceasefire, let alone be the start of a renewed peace process.
The Biden administration has smartly downplayed expectations for the trip. Even if it hadn’t, there are five central reasons why Israeli-Palestinian negotiations are not expected to be renewed at this time.
No peace broker
The United States doesn’t believe that now is the time to launch a peace process. Blinken told CNN as much on Sunday morning, and State Department officials repeated it in a briefing with reporters on Monday.
It’s an assessment that has some common support, including from European Union policy chief Joseph Borrell, who spoke of the importance of “opening a space” for a peace process. The last Obama administration-led process broke apart in April 2014.
The US has been the lead broker in all past peace processes dating at least as far back as the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian deal. It is still considered by many to be the prime broker on deals involving Israel, so it’s hard to imagine a process without its leadership.
Israel would want a US-led peace process, but the Palestinian Authority wants one led by all four members of the Quartet, which would also include the United Nations, the European Union and Russia.
No Israeli government
There is no Israeli government, a fact which was one of the primary reasons that the Trump administration delayed the launch of its “Deal of the Century” – publishing it late in the game: only in January 2020. Israel plunged into electoral chaos in December 2018. Three elections were held without results, with a government forming only in May 2020 and breaking apart in December.
Neither Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the top vote getter in the March 2021 elections, nor his immediate rival, Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid, have been able to form a government, so it is likely that the country is heading to a fifth election. In that scenario, it could be another half a year before a government would be in place that could negotiate a deal.
If Lapid forms a government, it would be one that lacks the necessary consensus for a peace deal – and the attempt to pass one could bring it down. Should Netanyahu be able to secure the premiership without another election, he would do so without government or Knesset support.
This Knesset is particularly unsympathetic to any deal he might forge. Netanyahu has already spoke of a demilitarized Palestinian state and the need for two states for two peoples – but any government he might form would oppose a Palestinian state.
‘67 line remains a stumbling block
Disagreement over the idea of a two-state resolution to the conflict based on the pre-1967 has plagued negotiations since former prime minister Ehud Olmert agreed to talks on that basis and Netanyahu rejected the concept upon taking office.
Netanyahu has historically been willing to hold talks without preconditions, while the Palestinians have often refused to sit down with Israel unless there was an understanding about the ‘67 lines and an agreement to freeze settlement activity. An exception was made in 2013-2014; ultimately those talks fell apart.
The Palestinians have insisted on a two-state resolution to the conflict based on the pre-1967 lines with east Jerusalem as its capital. It’s a formula which has almost global support, but only meager Israeli support. In the current Knesset, only the two Arab parties and Meretz would stand by such a scenario. The majority of those in the Knesset who do support a two-state resolution believe in a united Jerusalem and in Israel’s retention of at least all the settlement blocs and/or all the settlements in Area C.
There are other divisive issues of course, but this one with regard to the ‘67 line has made it difficult to launch and/or maintain a peace process – and those difficulties have not been resolved.
No united Palestinian leadership
The Israelis are not the only ones with an unstable government. The Palestinians last held an election in 2006 and their plans to hold one this spring were suspended. The international community is calling for a new election date to be set; if there is an election, no peace process could start until it is concluded.
The PA has also been split since Hamas ousted Fatah from Gaza in a bloody coup in 2007, forcibly ruling the coastal enclave since then. All PA attempts to unify with Hamas have failed. Any peace process would necessitate a Palestinian leader who represents all the factions, something that the PA cannot provide at this time unless it can come to an agreement with Hamas.
Gaza war strengthened Hamas
Hamas, which is backed by Iranian funds, is considered to be a terror group by entities and counties such as the US, the EU, Canada and Australia.
Its charter still calls for Israel’s destruction. Hamas co-founder Mahmoud al-Zahar told Sky News this week that he does not believe that Israel has a right to exist or that a two-state solution was possible.
The recent Gaza war, also known as “Operation Guardian of the Walls,” gave Hamas a boost politically and militarily.
The sudden resolve by key international players to attempt to disarm Hamas and to boost the Palestinian Authority’s standing could not come at a more difficult moment.
A peace process is the best resolution to the issue of Gaza, but Hamas also remains one of the key barriers. The international community will first have to figure out if it can be neutralized, before believing that any peace process could be possible.