Experts' Round Table on the Israel-PA Talks, Part I

BESA Center research associates convened recently to discuss the fortunes and pitfalls of the newly reignited Israeli-PA talks. Among the points of debate: What brought about the talks, after a long deadlock, and what kind of agreement is feasible?

BESA Center,


Why were negotiations re-started now after so many years of deadlock?

Prof. Eytan Gilboa: Several successive American administrations have been obsessive with Israeli-Palestinian peace, believing it is a key for solving all the problems of the Middle East, especially US relations with the Arab and Muslim world. Although, this belief has been wrong from the beginning, part of it still drives US policy. Given the upheavals in the Middle East, the administration believes that an Israeli-Palestinian breakthrough is more important than ever.

Prof. Joshua Teitelbaum: There are important members of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s coalition who seek to push the political process forward: Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua party and Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party. Netanyahu needs to demonstrate that he is responsive to their concerns. But his actual main goal in these negotiations is to avoid being blamed by the Americans for their failure. For Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, progress is the only way to stay in power in light of his waning popularity. The release of Palestinian terrorists by Israel is a major achievement for him in these talks. Like Netanyahu, his main goal is to avoid being blamed by the Americans for the failure of the talks.

Prof. Shmuel Sandler: Netanyahu is going through the same syndrome as did Begin, Rabin, Sharon, and Olmert. He wants to stake a place for himself in the chronicles of the Jewish state as a contributor to a peace process.

Dr. Mordechai Kedar: I think that the whole thing is not about the Palestinians, but about the Iranian nuclear program. Obama, with absolutely no reasonable basis, combines the Israeli-Palestinian issue with the American-Iranian file. I suspect that he said to Netanyahu something like this: “If you want me to take care of the Iranian nuclear problem, you give me something real on the Palestinian issue.” This way Obama can show his face in public as someone who had at least one success in the Mideast, after his failures in Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt, Syria, and more. Netanyahu seeks to placate Obama, so that Obama has no excuses for failing to deal with Iran. Netanyahu does not believe there is any connection between the two issues, but he has failed in convincing Obama and Kerry to separate between them.

What kind or scope of an agreement is feasible, and what should Israel’s red lines be?

Gilboa: Since Oslo, the Palestinians have demonstrated several times that they are not ready or willing to make peace with Israel. The maximum Israel is prepared to concede doesn’t meet the minimum the Palestinians demand. Thus, the best outcome could be an interim agreement for a period of at least five years. The long term solution should be found within a Jordanian context.

Dr. Jonathan Rynhold: A permanent status agreement is impossible, for known reasons: the internal Palestinian division between Hamas and Fatah, and the large gap between the parties on the core final status issue. This gap is not primarily a function of the Netanyahu government’s positions, because Ehud Olmert was also unable to reach an agreement with Abbas.

Teitelbaum: The best that can be hoped for is a long-term interim agreement (although even achieving that is unlikely). This means a long-term Israeli military presence on the Jordan River, Israeli development of the settlement blocs, and Israeli control over Jerusalem, but does not require Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state or an end-of-conflict declaration.

Kedar: The only agreement possible is a long-term interim understanding on security and economy. There is no possibility for an accord on the core problems of settlements, borders, Jerusalem, and refugees. Israel should reject any talk of a Palestinian state with territorial contiguity, since such contiguity will enable the PA or Hamas to turn the entire space into a terror state, reaching from Beersheba in the south to Afula in the north.

Dr. Max Singer: There should be no Israeli concessions without a quid pro quo. Israel should insist that Palestinian refugee resettlement be the first issue of discussion, because that is the key to real peace.

Sandler: In light of what is happening in the Arab world, I am not sure that Mahmoud Abbas truly wants an independent Palestinian state.

Prof. Efraim Karsh: The Palestinians never truly wanted the constrained mini-state in the West Bank and Gaza that Israel can give them. They are simply not ready for full peace with Israel that ends all claims, which is why the current round of talks makes little sense. Albert Einstein once said: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Part II, Tomorrow: What alternative diplomatic directions might Israel take? Is time on Israel’s side, or working against Israel?

(BESA Center Associates in Roundtable Discussion, from the BESA Bulletin, October 2013.)