Immediately after being asked by President Shimon Peres to form a new coalition Benjamin Netanyahu stated that renewing talks with Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority would be a top priority for his new government.
“The next government that I will form will be committed to peace. I call on Abu Mazen (Abbas) to return to the negotiating table. Every day that passes without us talking to jointly find a way to create peace for our peoples is a day wasted.”
Also supporting a new peace initiative the new US secretary of state, John Kerry, pressured Netanyahu to return to the negotiating table and make concessions to the Palestinians. It was reported in Israel Today that “the very day after Kerry phoned Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian officials began listing preconditions for even meeting with the Israelis”.
“Among those preconditions: The immediate release of all jailed Palestinians, most of whom have either tried or succeeded in killing Jews, and a full halt to the building of homes for Jews in areas claimed by the Palestinian Authority, including the eastern half of Jerusalem.”
”Both are red lines no Israeli government could cross.”
Yet again the Palestinian leadership has missed out on yet another opportunity to put the new Israeli leadership to the test.
In November 2009 Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, bowed to US pressure to announce that no new Jewish homes or settlements would be built in the West Bank for the next 10 months. It was hoped that by acceding to this intractable demand of the Palestinian leadership, peace negotiations could be jump-started.
Subsequently several events interceded that hindered direct talks from occurring. On May 31 2010 Israel carried out the Gaza flotilla raid that Abbas labelled “a massacre” and he proceeded to declare a three-day mourning period.
Abbas proceeded to announce to the Arab League on July 8 2010 that the Palestinian Authority would abandon peace talks and attack Israel if the Arab states would invade stating “if you want war, and if all of you will fight Israel, we are in favour. But the Palestinians will not fight alone because they don’t have the ability to do it” — rather ironic, for a leader known to have renounced violence as a form of resistance.
In August 2010 Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton stated rather optimistically, as so many leaders had said before, that a Palestinian state was possible to achieve within one year.
The Obama administration launched a renewed effort to negotiate peace by attempting to get the parties involved to agree to direct talks for the first time in a long while. With the support for direct talks from Egypt and Jordan, they managed to persuade the Palestinian leadership after much coaxing to accept Israel’s settlement freeze and enter direct talks. The fact that this process took nine months after the start of the freeze, to the Israeli leadership was proof that the real intention of the Palestinian leaders all along was to procrastinate in order to extend the freeze. The aim of the talks was to forge the framework of a final agreement within one year for a two-state solution, although general expectations of a success were low.
It took until September 2, after 10 months and seven rounds of indirect talks for US-brokered direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority to commence in Washington DC. This was followed up with a second round of peace talks on September 14 between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. Abbas stated that during the talks, the two parties agreed to the principle of land swaps, with Israel exchanging small parts of its own territory in exchange for settlement blocs.
In early September, to disrupt the direct negotiations a coalition of 13 Palestinian militant groups led by Hamas and Hezbollah began a campaign of attacks against Israeli civilians including two pregnant women and a series of drive-by shootings and rocket attacks from Gaza on Israeli towns.
After all these provocations direct talks broke down in late September 2010. Netanyahu refused to extend the freeze unless the Palestinian Authority recognized Israel as a Jewish state while the Palestinian leadership refused to continue negotiating unless Israel extended the moratorium.
The refusal by Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad on September 21 2010 to take part in a joint press conference with Peres, led Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon to comment “what I say is that if the Palestinians are not willing to talk about two states for two peoples, let alone a Jewish state for Israel, then there’s nothing to talk about” and that “if the Palestinians think that they can create one Palestinian state and one dual-nationality state, this will not happen”.
Despite the US pushing Israel to extend the settlement freeze, Israel chose not to, in the face of withering criticism from European countries and the US. Netanyahu called for ”restraint” from the settlers and has adhered ever since to a policy of not allowing any new settlements to be built, except in Jerusalem, which Israel considers its capitol and has annexed.
As a further confidence-building gesture and to secure the release of Gilad Shalit, Israel released 1 027 Palestinian prisoners in December 2011. This gesture failed to produce any desired results and the Palestinian leadership continued to find excuses for refusing to start peace talks or display any flexibility in their insistence that Israel cease with settlement expansion.
The recent United Nations Human Rights Council decision to condemn Israel for its settlements policies and demanding that all Israeli settlers be uplifted and that Israel returns to its 1967 borders, unfortunately makes it unnecessary for the Palestinian leadership to compromise and is inimical to fostering the need for peace talks. The widespread support for the United Nations position, by the overwhelming number of its members, merely emboldens the Palestinians to maintain their intransigence. As the UN has acceded to all the Palestinian demands there is simply no need or benefit to come to the negotiating table, where there is likely to be pressure to compromise.
Only when Abbas and his regime are prepared to negotiate without preconditions, which are in effect excuses for refusing to negotiate, can Israel have a partner for peace. Until such time Abbas must be held responsible and be made accountable for scuttling all opportunities for peace talks over the past four years.