Secretary of State John Kerry’s announcement this evening from Jordan of the resumption of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority is a remarkable personal achievement and testifies to his perseverance, powers of persuasion and commitment to the cause of peace.
The fact that initial talks will reportedly take place in Washington between Israel’s Minister of Justice Tzipi Livni of the Hatnuah Party and Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat is itself encouraging. Livni is a leading advocate of the two-state solution and has been entrusted by Israel’s current government coalition with overseeing diplomatic initiatives and peace talks with the Palestinians.
Meanwhile, the guidelines adopted this past week by the European Commission making a distinction between Israel and settlements over the Green Line in terms of grants, prizes and financial instruments funded by the EU is viewed by many in Israel as having been an unhelpful, one-sided step at a time when greater sensitivity could have been expected as Secretary Kerry was working to bring Israelis and Palestinians together.
The coming months of negotiation are not going to be easy. The Palestinians are going to have to relinquish some of their dreams and recognize the right of a Jewish State to exist in the Middle East. Hamas has already issued a statement protesting that Mahmoud Abbas has no mandate to negotiate.
At the same time, Prime Minister Netanyahu will be hard pressed to keep his coalition together given the opposition of Naftali Bennett’s The Jewish Home party to a two-state solution. Bennett is on record as having said “I will do everything in my power to make sure they never get a state.”
This may well be the last chance in the foreseeable future for Israel and the Palestinians to reach an accord at the negotiating table. Both sides will need to show courageous statesmanship and be prepared to settle for less than they would wish in order to make it happen.
Time will tell whether Mahmoud Abbas and Benjamin Netanyahu have the power to persuade their respective constituencies that it is time to bring the Israel/Palestinian conflict to a close. It is ultimately in the interests of both sides that they should succeed.