The real test of any new peace talksby Henry Siegman / January 23, 2013 / Leave a comment
Published in February 2013 issue of Prospect Magazine
Prime Minister Netanyahu speaks to the president; “he believes he exercises greater control over the US Congress than Obama”
One of Israel’s most respected political scientists recently dismissed the idea “that simply engaging in negotiations will automatically foster a peace agreement” between Israel and the Palestinians. Writing in Haaretz, Shlomo Avineri, a former director-general of Israel’s foreign ministry, called it “a fantasy proven baseless by the experience of the past 20 years.”
In this he is unquestionably correct. He is off base, however, when he maintains that previous peace initiatives have failed because they tried to resolve questions about the terms of a “permanent status” deal. He argues that even the two sides’ most moderate positions on these core issues are too far apart, making agreement impossible. He therefore proposes that the peace process shift from discussions of the endgame and Palestinian statehood to incremental improvements—“interim agreements, trust-building exercises, unilateral steps and other mechanisms,” that would serve as building blocks for broader future agreements. But this is the most deceptive illusion of all. For what the 20 years of failure to which Avineri refers prove above all is the bankruptcy of incrementalism and confidence-building measures. They were the hallmark of the stewardship of Dennis Ross, special Middle East coordinator for President Bill Clinton, and discredited the peace process.
That illusion should be resisted particularly by those now considering a new attempt at peace talks. European Union countries, led by Britain, France and Germany, are reportedly preparing to present Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his new government with a new initiative for negotiations with the Palestinians. The initiative is prompted by the anger of European governments at his announcement in November of plans for new construction (see map, left) in East Jerusalem’s E-1 corridor and other sites around Jerusalem that would effectively exclude the prospective Palestinian state’s capital from East Jerusalem and would also destroy the territorial contiguity of such a state.