John Kerry: 'Basis' reached for renewed Mideast talks; initial round in D.C.
On his sixth trip to Mideast in six months, John Kerry hailed 'significant ... step forward,' but said the Israeli and Palestinian agreement on the renewed peace talks were still 'being formalized.'
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One possible solution to the Israeli-Palestinian divide on the pre-1967 borders issue that was hinted at in recent days is that the US would invite the two parties to resume talks based on prewar borders – and based on recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, a key Israeli demand – without the two sides having formally signed on to those two starting points.Skip to next paragraph
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President Obama set the stage for that formula when he declared in May 2011 that the two sides should resume peace talks based on the 1967 prewar borders.
One of Kerry’s accomplishments this week was to win reaffirmation by the Arab League of its 2002 peace initiative with Israel, and its endorsement of a resumption of talks based on the 1967 borders – but with adjustments to be agreed upon by both sides in negotiations. Kerry described as a significant enticement for Israel the prospect of achieving peace not just with the Palestinians, but with more than 20 Arab countries.
Kerry urged Israel to “look hard at the [Arab] initiative, which promises Israel peace with 22 Arab nations and 35 Muslim nations – a total of 57 nations that are standing and waiting for the possibility of making peace with Israel.”
Still, the fuzziness of Kerry’s announcement on resumed talks is leading analysts to caution that negotiations won’t be able to get very far if terms aren’t defined relatively soon.
“It won’t have been lost on anyone that the basis [for the talks] has not yet been formulated,” says Miller. “The foundation for these negotiations needs to be set relatively soon and in a relatively coherent manner, otherwise they can’t be sustained.”
Advocates of resumed peace talks responded positively to Kerry’s announcement, but cautioned that efforts to reach a settlement of the decades-old conflict will face opposition from some on all sides.
“Now the hard work truly begins,” said the Israel Policy Forum, a New York-based pro-Israel organization that supports reaching a two-state solution. Asserting that “leaders on both sides will be tested, as will the United States’ resolve to see through negotiations to their successful fruition,” the group warned that “there will be many Palestinians and Israeli leaders, and many others, including in the US, who will be working hard to ensure these talks fail.”
And some Palestinian advocates said that Kerry’s “accomplishment” in jumpstarting talks may yet lead to more of the same – short-lived negotiations that do nothing to halt what they see as the nibbling away at Palestinian lands.
“After months of tireless effort, John Kerry has accomplished the tremendous task of getting the parties precisely back to the point they were at over five years ago when talks failed, only now with a more recalcitrant Israeli government,” says Yousef Munayyer, executive director of the pro-Palestinian Jerusalem Fund and Palestinian Center in Washington.
“Merely getting to talks is not a reason to celebrate if the talks are bound to fail,” he says, adding that they could end up “a reason for mourning” if they “only act as a cover for continued Israeli colonialism of Palestinian territory.”
The Wilson Center’s Miller also notes the planned presence at the initial talks in Washington of two Israeli officials, Minister Livni (who has threatened to pull her party out of Mr. Netanyahu’s governing coalition if talks are not launched) and Netanyahu aide Molho. Both Israelis must be working from the same page, he says, or the initiative fails.
“Clearly if their positions are inconsistent, it’s not going to work,” Miller says.
But the key challenge ahead will be transforming what is so far an initiative willed into existence by Kerry into the project, even if a very painful one, of the two parties.
“Right now Kerry owns this in a way the others don’t,” Miller says. “It simply won’t be able to survive on that.”