Just one day into peace talks between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, and US Secretary General John Kerry has already declared the talks "failed."
Yesterday (Tuesday), Abbas denied that the agreement the PM made to release 26 convicted terrorists last week into civilian areas in exchange for uncontested building rights in Jewish areas of Judea and Samaria was legitimate, calling it "nonsense and lies." The impasse has left talks stalled, with Kerry reportedly not optimistic about finding a solution.
As Netanyahu reiterated in the past few days, the PA has known all along about the agreement, and is creating an "artificial crisis." In a public statement, the PM says that he sees "the Palestinians continuing with incitement, continuing to create artificial crises, continuing to avoid, run away from the historic decisions that are needed to make a genuine peace," Reuters reports.
But a critical look at recent events points to evidence that Abbas's reasons for stalling the talks may be less political and more economic. The PA's continued pressure on the US for talks to be successful - something which the PA has already stated was doomed to failure from the beginning - is giving them more opportunities to strategize and petition for international aid money.
This time, unlike during previous peace talks in 2010, Abbas has repeatedly cited economic concerns as a game-changer in negotiations. Just this week, he rejected Israel's stance that an Israeli military presence is crucial in the Jordan Valley to maintain Israelis' safety and security in the event of a "two-state solution". He claimed that Israel's interests in the region are economic, from a reported $620 million investments in infrastructure in the area, including date plantations, artificial lakes for raising crocodiles, chicken farms, and more.
Abbas followed the accusations with veiled threats that the PA would "blow up the situation" if Israel failed to both "admit" that the prisoner release deal was never made between the two countries, and to abandon the vital Jordan Valley demands, which Israel says would ensure the Jewish state's security in the event of a "Palestinian state" in Judea and Samaria. The PA claims that Israel's real interests are "economic" - but the interest, it seems, is their's.
The remarks follow equally mounting reports which indicate that the PA has been preparing to engage Israel in another "intifada". Following Abbas's threats, a poll today (Wednesday) revealing that the Palestinian Arab public themselves believe that another intifada is imminent, and Monday's incident in the Knesset - where Arab MKs caused a furor, not only threatening a third intifada but also to harm the personal safety of several Israeli MKs and their families.
Now, despite their own admission that talks have "failed", the US has reportedly granted the PA over $75M in aid money.
AFP reports that in Bethlehem today, Kerry expressed his own convictions that peace depends on improvements to the Palestinian Arab economy. "We need to develop the economies to show both peoples that peace has the benefits of economic opportunity and prosperity and a better quality of life," he said.
At the assembly, Kerry joked that he was "the carrier of money" and said "nowhere better represents the untapped potential of the Palestinian economy than where we are standing today." Kerry also made statements late Wednesday indicating that the US supports the PA stance that Jewish building in Judea and Samaria is "illegitimate."