An End to Peace Talks, and Early Start to Summer Vacation

With negotiations over and the Palestinians busy getting their house in order, everyone else can take a break.

Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury
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Netanyahu or 'Mr. Economy,' as he's been called.
Netanyahu or 'Mr. Economy,' as he's been called.Credit: Michal Fattal
Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury

Tuesday, April 29, 2014, will be remembered as one of the most disappointing and boring days in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

After nine months of feverish talks, direct and indirect negotiations and dozens of visits, meetings and phone calls between United States Secretary of State John Kerry and Israeli and Palestinian leaders, the current round of peace talks officially ended. The much-discussed pregnancy did not end in the birth of a peace agreement, or even an agreement to continue talking. The Palestinians describe it as having been nothing but a false pregnancy.

Until a week ago, the primary question hanging in the air was what would happen after April 29. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his spokesmen held their cards close to their chests, sufficing with hints about anything from continuing to reach out to United Nations organizations to dismantling the Palestinian Authority and handing Israel the keys. A more diplomatic answer was given by chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, who said all options were on the table.

Despite the desperation and fatigue that one of Abbas’ associates told me this week the Palestinian leader was feeling, Abbas will not be walking away from the battle only to be depicted as someone who has failed on all fronts. But he also doesn’t want to break the rules of the game, whether with Israel or, more importantly, with the U.S. by initiating another initiative for international recognition, as he did last month. So Abbas chose another route, a better one from his perspective: putting the Palestinian house in order.

Hamas-Fatah reconciliation will win him wide support from the Palestinian public and assure him pan-Arab backing and even a financial safety net if Israel continues to hold onto PA funds for the coming months. The reconciliation option will also give him plenty of room to maneuver in the coming months.

Earlier this week, Abbas received a mandate from the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Central Council, its highest body, to leave the window for negotiations officially open, thus making it possible to quietly discuss conditions for renewing negotiations, far from the spotlight, if Washington were to signal that it’s time. Abbas also received a mandate to seek recognition from all UN agencies and demand the involvement of the international community. All this will be stored in a drawer for safekeeping right now, because that’s not the way to salvation.

In implementing the reconciliation agreement, Abbas will find himself busy over the next six weeks or so with consultations ahead of forming a unity government with Hamas. If the reconciliation pact sticks — and that is looking likely — the West Bank and Gaza Strip will embark on six months of elections. There are Fatah officials to be elected in August, just after Ramadan, when a new Fatah central committee is to be voted in. Abbas will have to deal with his bitter rival within the movement, Mohammed Dahlan. If he won, the new leadership would get a boost in elections for parliament and for the Palestinian National Council, as well as for president.

Observers expect Hamas to be busy preparing for elections too, a project rife with internal problems. Hamas can be expected to work to improve its standing in both the West Bank and Gaza, such that both it and Fatah will be involved in internal Palestinian issues until September, when Abbas will visit the UN, meet with U.S. President Barack Obama and explain which direction he’s headed in.

In the meantime, security coordination between Israel and the PA will continue. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is holding onto his coalition as long as there continues to be no peace deal and accusations abound of the absence of a partner for peace talks. He won’t have to deal with difficult issues like releasing Palestinian prisoners, freezing settlement construction or setting borders for a future Palestinian state. Obama and Kerry will also be able to enjoy a break. We have made it to April 29, and thanks to Palestinian reconciliation, we have an excuse start summer vacation early.

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