US Secretary of State John Kerry has managed to convince the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships to come back to the negotiations table...but that's just the easy part.

That John Kerry sure has determination and he’s going to need plenty more where it came from.

A dizzying schedule of shuttle diplomacy has done what Hilary Clinton could not. Convince Israeli and Palestinian leaders to agree to disagree and talk about it.

However talking about possible talks will no doubt prove to be the easy part.

Few, including Kerry, can be overly optimistic that this time perhaps it will be different. 

For starters the most important factor will be ensuring that the parties are genuinely interested in more than just the resumption of a process.

Appearing to be serious about peace by being engaged in endless talks is not what Kerry has in mind. 

Since the Oslo Accords in 1993 the parties have often been disingenuous with respect to their actual intentions.

In the last twenty years Israel has steadily eaten away at the land which is supposed to constitute the future State of Palestine, to the point where now just on half a million Jewish settlers live illegally on stolen or confiscated Palestinian land. It begs the question of who is wiping who off the map?

Settlements are condemned by all except for Israel and its mighty patron, the United States. Having this big powerful protector allows Israel to flout international law as it pleases and so throws into question time and time again how the US can act as honest broker between the two protagonists.

Continued settlement construction has been the key reason there have been no talks since 2010.

That is why the European Union’s recent directive to its member states forbidding funding or cooperation with Israeli settlements is so refreshing.

Settlers will not be permitted into EU countries, and Israelis will have to prove they are not residents of occupied Palestine before they can travel throughout Europe.

It is precious little inconvenience when compared to the day to day hurdles Palestinians face in order to comply with Israeli imposed restrictions - checkpoints, identity cards and separation from lands, jobs and families by what is commonly called the apartheid wall and so on.

Perhaps potential pariah status with its culturally and physically close neighbours in Europe convinced Israel it ought to get to work on cleaning up its image.

This is particularly timely following the backing the Arab League gave a few weeks ago for the PLO to consider the possibility of land swaps rather than sticking exactly to the 1967 border as the delineation of the Palestinian state.

Technically such flexibility should have signaled to Israel that it could legitimise some - certainly not all - of its settlements. It’s quite an incentive for a state that eventually will run out of options.

By that I mean if Israel gobbles up all the Palestinian land leaving a one state option as the only possibility, all the Palestinians will have to be given equal rights - citizenship and votes, and time and demographics will then be on their side.

As is now ‘normal’ in Israeli-Palestinian politics Israel has shown its good faith to negotiate by releasing a few selected Palestinian prisoners.

This gesture poses so many questions.

The most obvious is why are these prisoners still in jail - some for three decades - if they can be suddenly released in order to secure an agenda-driven concession?

My research in this area points to a blatant commodification by Israel of Palestinian prisoners. International, and indeed Israeli law, forbids the holding of prisoners as bargaining chips for political deals. Yet here again the revolving doors of Israel’s jails are in action to ‘prove‘ to the world that Israel is serious.

Last big revolution of those doors was the release of 1027 prisoners for Hamas captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

Within weeks of the prisoner release a wave of re-arrests and expulsions of Palestinians from the territories was underway.

Palestinians love having their kin back, but they are not stupid. They know all about the political gain it serves Israel, while their every day lives remain caught in the occupier’s vast carceral web.

While Palestinians are right to be sceptical of Israel’s motives, they too present Israel with a conundrum because of the split between Fatah (willing to talk) and Hamas, which rules Gaza and argues the PLO has no right to negotiate on its behalf. Unity talks between the two sides have not been entirely successful, playing right into Israel’s propaganda hands.

Kerry has made it clear that the best hope for this push for addressing the final status issues is to keep the meetings private and personal.

He’s already warned that any speculation about just what’s going on, what’s on the table, what concessions are possible etc. is just that - speculation.

Information will leak out as it always does in order to serve the politics of such negotiations.

In the meantime Kerry will work hard to ensure he holds on to this very important first victory of his tenure, although he knows the biggest threats to it are beyond his control.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has to be able to deal with the Fatah-Hamas split, and if he now feels confident given the nod from the Arab League that he can negotiate land swaps, he can’t concede East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine. He must also deliver something to the Palestinian refugees.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has to hold his government together.

He has some in his coalition who are ok with negotiations ad infinitum while ‘facts on the ground‘ (settlements) consolidate. He has others who will walk rather than even consider the division of Jerusalem. He also has settlers who are elected members of the Knesset.

The traits that John Kerry will need feature aplenty in the Biblical and Qur’anic characters of old from this neck of the woods...think patience, fairness, diplomacy, strength, determination and of course wisdom.

Kerry has taken his first step. All power to him. He now deserves global support to get the parties in step with him. Time is not on their side. 

 

Comments (1)

by Andrew P Nichols on July 23, 2013
Andrew P Nichols

This pathetic charade is nothing more than an attempt to head off Palestinian moves at the UN and ICC. How can there be any kind of peace when the Israeli coalition partners have said no to any land deal and the settlement land grab continues apace. Your article tiresomely perpetuates the shameful unsustainable myth that the USA is an honest broker rather than what it really is the priest conducting the burial rites for Palestinian justice. It is up to the rest of the world to break away from the US embrace and forge an independent path in dealing with the Israeli apartheid state. A small beginning has been made with the Euro Unions ban on goods produced by Israelis in the Occupied territories. This is the first painful step towards the inevitable trade sanctions over the rest of Israel via BDS. As the Israelis through their tragic zionist obsession have effectively siad no to a two state solution, the  future will be a single state. They can either choose to accept this or have it forced on them. Probably time they sought some advice from South Africa.

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