The Obama administration has abandoned its three-week effort to persuade Israel to adopt a 90-day settlement construction freeze in exchange for a package of political and security incentives, which U.S. diplomats hoped would re-invigorate direct peace talks with the Palestinians. According to reports, the administration pulled the plug after concluding that the 90-day negotiating period would not have produced much progress on the core issues.
So where will the U.S. go from here? In the aftermath of Tuesday night’s announcement, the White House declared that U.S. “efforts are not suspended” and it “will continue to engage the parties on the way forward” to direct negotiations. Indeed, Israelis and Palestinians are returning to Washington next week for indirect talks in which officials will shuttle between the two sides in an effort to reach some sort of an agreement. In addition, Middle East envoy George Mitchell is scheduled to return to the Middle East next week to engage both parties separately.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, U.S. President Barack Obama, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas
But unless the administration walked away from this set of failed negotiations with new insight into Middle East diplomacy, Obama’s next push for peace will likely fail just the same – especially now that the Palestinian Authority’s threat to dissolve its government in the West Bank and unilaterally seek international recognition of an independent Palestinian state is gaining traction in South America.
Much can be learned from the latest run of peace negotiations – specifically, that settlements are not the main obstacle to peace and should not be made the cornerstone of the U.S. Middle East peace plan. That the Palestinian Authority agreed to direct talks with Israel at the end of its 10-month freeze on settlement activity, only to insist on another freeze, underscores this truth. In moving forward, rather than waste weeks pressuring Israel to make irrelevant concessions as a precondition to talks, the U.S. should work with the Palestinian leadership to try and sway their intransigence on issues such as the “right of return” for all Palestinian refugees. Indeed, as long as that constant remains on the table, a new round of direct talks will surely prove equally as fruitless.