The Obama administration is sticking to its hope that the Palestinian Authority and Israel can reach a peace agreement in one year, although both sides in the past week have ignored the clock and drifted out of the time zone.
Reporters in Washington have increasingly questioned the feasibility of U.S. President Barack Obama’s goal, set by him and his administration on September 1, when he brought Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas together for the first official face-to-face talks in nearly two years in a high-profile ceremony.
Since then, Abbas has refused to enter talks without the pre-condition that Prime Minister Netanyahu extend the same building freeze that was established last year to satisfy his pre-condition for direct talks. With one month left in the 10-month freeze, he finally agreed to talks and began calling on Israel to extend it while refusing Israel’s demand that he recognize the country as a “Jewish” state.
After U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Crowley reiterated the one-year goal in a press conference last week, one reporter asked, “No, no, wait. I just want to make sure I have something clear. You said in response to a question a little while ago that your hope remains that you can – that if you can get through this deadlock, you can still get some kind of an agreement in 12 months, a year. But you – is it still 12 months or is it now 11? We’ve already had a month of this, so are you giving yourself an extra month here already?”
Amid laughter from his colleagues, the journalist added, “Has it already been extended? It was really a 13-month process and not a year?”
Crowley, caught off balance for a couple of seconds, regained his posture and replied, “It’s a fair question. At the start of these direct negotiations, it was our view and it remains our view that we can be successful in 12 months. If we get into next year successfully, whether it’s 12 months and one day, 12 months and one week, but it would – on the clock that was started here in Washington in late August, we are now one month into that process.”
The spokesman tried to change the subject, but another reporter cut him off and asked, again amid laughter, “Is it accurate to say that you’re still trying to get over the current hurdle in negotiations by getting an extension of the moratorium? And if that is still the plan, what does it say about the prospects for reaching an agreement within 12 or 13 months if the Israelis aren’t willing to make that gesture and you are not willing to – or you’re not able to break the deadlock?”
Crowley fell back on the Obama administration’s repeated optimism that "if we’re able to encourage successfully the parties to remain in the direct negotiations, that gives the process a boost. That demonstrates that both of them are willing to take the difficult political steps and stay committed to the process. So that is our goal.”
Journalist Jackson Diehl wrote in the Washington Post Monday, “Is it possible that Netanyahu and Abbas can agree on the borders of a Palestinian state in less than 60 days and end the settlement debate? No. But then, what will happen when the next deadline arrives? Discussion will be forced on yet another timetable… Yet in the Obama administration, the timetable is becoming an end in itself. It reflects a president who is fixed on disposing of foreign policy problems -- and not so much on solving them.”
Other pundits have charged that the president wants a "peace act," regardless of whether there is peace.
The Netanyahu government is far from optimistic. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman stated last month that it will take “decades” before the Palestinian Authority can reach a peace agreement with Israel.
Another senior Cabinet member, Minister of Strategic Affairs Moshe Ya'alon of the Likud party, said Tuesday, "There is no chance in the coming years for a peace agreement with the Palestinians."
"In the eyes of the Palestinians, the ‘occupation’ started in '48 and not in '67. It is not only Hamas that thinks this way, but also [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas]. They need to be released from this delusion, from not recognizing Israel as the home of the Jewish people. They have no interest in having Israel as a neighboring state."