3 interesting articles. One where the pressure is on Israel to finalize a deal. The pressure, world wide is on Israel to finish a deal.
Do Palestinians Really Want a State of Their Own?
The Palestinians have all the leverage, a former top State Department specialist on the Mideast peace process recently told me over red wine in Tel Aviv. "I'm not sure they'll ever sign on the dotted line." In that moment of candor -- lubricated no doubt by the Golan Heights cabernet -- the ex-bureaucrat admitted something U.S. President Barack Obama's administration would never concede publicly: The Palestinians are under little to no pressure to sign a final peace agreement with Israel. The consensus among right-thinking people, of course, is that self-determination is the incentive par excellence for Palestinian leaders to strike a deal. That was the view Obama articulated on Feb. 27, four days before he met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, when he told journalist Jeffrey Goldberg that more than anything else, the Palestinians seek "the dignity of a state." Secretary of State John Kerry repeated the "dignity" talking point on March 3 at the pro-Israel policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
But if the Palestinians are desperately seeking a negotiated settlement that grants them a state of their own, they're certainly hiding it well. In July, Kerry announced an ill-advised nine-month deadline for delivering Middle East peace. That gestation period is nearly complete, but there doesn't seem to be a bun in Washington's oven. Undeterred, the administration is making a final push: Netanyahu visited the Oval Office on March 3, with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas set to follow on March 17. If, however, Kerry and Obama are to succeed where their predecessors have all failed, they will have to fundamentally reassess their policy toward the Palestinians.
It's actually the Israelis, not the Palestinians, who are under pressure from all corners to reach a peace deal. Obama often reminds the Israelis that time is working against them, as high Palestinian birthrates could mean that the land between the Mediterranean Sea and Jordan River will have an Arab majority before long. For his part, Kerry warns Israel that the threat of boycotts and delegitimization is growing. The European Union, meanwhile, has set new guidelines against its funds going to Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and it is considering labeling goods that originate there. The United Nations has declared 2014 the "International Year of Solidarity With the Palestinian People."
Benjamin Netanyahu is one smart Israeli politician. This year, he will become the longest continuously serving prime minister in Israel's history. He is the only Israeli leader to win back-to-back elections. And despite his detractors' efforts to portray him as an illegitimate expression of Israeli popular desires, his staying power -- at least on security and foreign policy -- is an authentic expression of where much of the country stands in 2014.
Yet on the eve of his White House meeting with President Barack Obama on Monday, March 3, when the two leaders will discuss Iran, peace talks, and other issues, Bibi faces the prospect of being ensnared in traps that will limit his room to maneuver and undermine Israel's interests, as he defines them.
To be sure, Netanyahu's base is reasonably secure, and even if Secretary of State John Kerry succeeds in producing an agreement on a framework for Israeli-Palestinian peace that doesn't fully pass muster with parties to the right of Netanyahu, the prime minister and his government will likely endure. So far, Kerry has been operating in Bibi's comfort zone and has likely conceded enough to protect him against his critics.
Boots on the Ground
ill U.S. peacekeepers be heading to the West Bank?
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas recently stirred controversy when he suggested that a U.S.-led NATO force might backfill Israeli soldiers as they withdraw from Palestinian areas under a two-state peace agreement. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has voiced skepticism about foreign peacekeepers, most recently in his March 4 speech to AIPAC in Washington. Hamas meanwhile has said that they'd view NATO as a hostile occupier. For his part, Secretary of State John Kerry cautiously noted in February that a third-party force is "something for the parties to work out."
Controversial though it may be, Abbas's proposal is not going to fade quickly. Indeed, if negotiators in the peace process start making progress on other contentious issues, the question of how to transition Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) out of the West Bank in a way that both sides would find reassuring will loom ever larger. Negotiators shouldn't wait to shift gears toward implementation challenges. They should start thinking now about how to surmount obstacles to a successful security transition. In doing so, they'll need to focus on six critical questions.