As Kerry Falters, Where Is Netanyahu Leading Israel?

Israel should have fully accepted Kerry's proposal with alacrity; there will be no better one.

Kerry waves before boarding a plane after a meeting with Netanyahu on April 1, 2014.
Kerry waves before boarding a plane after a meeting with Netanyahu on April 1, 2014. AFP

United States Secretary of State John Kerry’s decision Tuesday to cancel his planned visit to Jerusalem and Ramallah is a bad sign. So are the statements made by senior American officials to the New York Times and the Washington Post that American mediation has gone as far as it can and that without decisions by Israel and the Palestinian Authority no more progress can be made. According to those officials, Kerry’s cancellation reflects increased impatience at the White House.

We can understand Kerry. Even after the American administration considered the far-reaching step, from its point of view, of releasing convicted spy Jonathan Pollard only to save the talks, Israel published another tender for the construction of 708 apartments in Gilo in Jerusalem. That led Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to sign applications by the “State of Palestine” to join 15 United Nations treaties and conventions.

Under such circumstances the negotiations, foundering in any case, are reaching an impasse. Israel has refused to carry out the fourth phase of the prisoner release to which it had obligated itself, and the Palestinians have refused to continue talks with Israel.

All eyes now turn to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, asking: Where are you leading the negotiations and the State of Israel? After he threw a spanner in the negotiation works, in the form of the unnecessary demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state, he owes us an answer: What does he propose now?

A departure by the U.S. from the negotiations will bring an end to a two-state solution, a solution to which Netanyahu committed himself. Under the current circumstances there is no chance that the two parties will move ahead without American mediation.

Kerry may have taken this harsh step only to increase pressure on both sides a moment before the collapse of the talks. The challenge is now at Netanyahu’s door.

The U.S. brought a proposal by which Israel could conveniently continue the negotiations: a partial construction freeze in the settlements, the fourth phase of the prisoner release in its entirety and the release of minor prisoners, in exchange for Pollard’s release and the continuation of talks with the Palestinians.

Instead of issuing another construction tender, Israel should have fully accepted the proposal with alacrity. There will be no better one. The alternative could be fatal to peace efforts, and Netanyahu will bear the responsibility.