The new round of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations was launched on July 19 in a press conference in Amman with the sole presence of US Secretary of State, John Kerry. This new round was made possible because neither the Palestinians nor the Israelis had to make public commitments, such as the halting of settlement construction. The terms agreed to by both sides in order to allow for resumption of talks were never made public.
Nonetheless a large segment of the Israeli public and Israel’s ruling government coalition opposes these talks.
According to the July 2013 “Peace Index”, a monthly survey that monitors trends in Israeli public opinion regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, 79 percent of Israeli Jews are pessimistic about the prospects of the peace talks. Israelis reveal little willingness to compromise on the core issues of the final status.
In other opinion surveys, Israelis ostensibly demonstrate support for a peace agreement based on the two state formula. When the Peace Index survey examined the content of such an agreement, however, it was found that the majority of the Jewish public opposes compromise on any of the fundamental issues: withdrawal to the 1967 borders, evacuation of settlements, division of Jerusalem and recognition of the right of return for Palestinian refugees.
These opinions are echoed by the emerging leadership of the Likud, which opposes its own Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu. Danny Danon, Israel Katz and Ze’ev Elkin, who hold relatively minor positions in government, have managed to takeover Likud leadership.
Danny Danon, deputy defence minister and chairman of the Likud Central Committee, stated in an interview with the Times of Israel website that “Israel’s ruling party and the governing coalition are staunchly opposed to a two state solution and would block the creation of a Palestinian state if such a proposal ever came to a vote.”
Netanyahu could accept Kerry’s terms and sit at the negotiating table because the Israeli public does not believe peace talk will succeed. The Peace Index survey shows that only one fifth of the Jewish Israeli public believes the talks will produce a peace agreement.
Netanyahu’s partners in the Likud, as well as members of Israel’s governing coalition, similarly do not believe negotiations will move forward. They therefore don’t see a reason to promote a government crisis that will endanger other political interests.
Promoting Israeli-Palestinian negotiations to nullify the Palestinian factor in a growingly chaotic Middle East is a strategic move by the United States. All political forces in the area acknowledge, at least verbally, that the Palestinian question is a bleeding wound in the region. Moreover, Arab public opinion identifies the US as sharing responsibility for the situation of the Palestinians due to its intimate relations with Israel.
At the July 19 press conference, Kerry said that solving the Arab-Israeli conflict would have a far-reaching impact in helping to stabilise the region and the broader Middle East. Neutralising the Palestinian question will allow the US a better standing to intervene in the Syrian and Egyptian crises without appearing as safeguarding Israel’s interest.
But if the current Israeli public indifference to the process allowed Netanyahu to enter this new round of negotiations, his government and the public opposition to concessions will make it impossible to actually reach a peace agreement with the Palestinian Authority.
The Peace Index survey states that if a referendum were held today among all Israeli citizens, Jews and Arabs, there would not be majority support for a peace agreement that includes an Israeli withdrawal from the occupied Palestinian territory and evacuation of settlements.
For Israeli public opinion and the majority of the political class, the failure of the peace process will bear no consequences. The Palestinian Authority, as well as the Palestinian national liberation movement, appears defeated and incapable of damaging Israel’s international standing. The Arab countries also do not appear to be a major threat. Israeli analysts see that the Syrian and Egyptian armies are engaged with domestic problems and won’t risk a collision with Israel. Hezbollah also does not appear a threat as the Syrian civil war slides into Lebanon, and the resistance in Gaza was always perceived as capable of producing only a marginal threat, which is easy to resolve.
The most serious threat perceived by Israeli analysts is the Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions movement, but it was never endorsed officially by the Palestinian political forces and remains a civil society initiative.
The question of sanctions is acute for the Israeli relations with Europe. On June 30 the European Commission published new guidelines stipulating that all agreements between Israel and the EU must indicate their inapplicability to the territories occupied by Israel in 1967. Practically the guidelines require that any agreement or contract signed by an EU country with Israel include a clause stating that the settlements are not part of the state of Israel and therefore not part of the agreement.
However, the Israeli response to date has been not to bend to European pressures, but to examine whether Israel should discontinue its cooperation with the European research and development project “Horizon 2020.”
Economy Minister Naftali Bennett believes that Israel should cease its cooperation with the EU, claiming that ending cooperation with the Horizon 2020 project will mean losing no more than EUR 300 million. A sum Israel can live with.
Europe is the biggest market for Israeli civil exports, but Israel gambles that its future lies with the US, China and emerging economies which are showing better performances.
This vision is reminiscent of the emboldened state of mind that prevailed in Israel during the Golda Meir government from August 1970 to October 1973: urgent social and economic questions take over the political discourse as the threat of war becomes unreal and army generals, mainstream politicians and the public in general believe Arabs won’t dare to confront Israel.
Similarly, the ball is in the American court. Will the US accept the risks of Israel’s interference in its regional political projects? Or will Washington let Israel bleed, as in the 1973 Middle East war, in order to impose an agreement that Israelis would otherwise not accept?
Then US Secretary of StateWilliam Rogersproposed in December 1969 a plan to achieve an end to belligerence in theArab-Israeli conflict. The plan proposed peace based on Israeli withdrawal from Egyptian territory occupied in the war as well as a “fair settlement of the refugee problem”.
In response, then Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Dayan said he “prefers Sharm al Sheikh without peace to peace without Sharm al Sheikh” and the Israeli government decided to establish the settlements of French Hill, Ma’alot Daphna and Ramat Eshkol in East Jerusalem.
Israel lobbyists in Washington worked to galvanize the American public against the Rogers plan as Israeli-American relations suffered a political setback. On the other hand, Egypt’s Nasser gained a respite that enabled him to consolidate his missile defense systems and use the negotiations as a way to open the lines of communication with the United States. After Nasser’s death in 1970, Anwar Sadat continued this trend. A new major war broke out in October 1973 and Israel was subsequently forced out of the Egyptian territories it occupied during the 1967 war.
Will history repeat itself?
* This article was published by the Alternative Information Center (AIC)