The Washington Post reports: Until a week ago, it seemed the Israeli-Palestinian peace process was a flat-liner.
President Obama thought so. In March, he said he wouldn’t seek to jump-start talks — the two sides were too far apart; it was not in the cards.
Now Israeli-Palestinian peace initiatives are popping up all over.
On Friday, the French will host a meeting of about 25 foreign ministers, including Secretary of State John F. Kerry, to seek international consensus on a way to move talks forward.
State Department spokesman John Kirby said Kerry was going to Paris to learn and listen — not to lead.
“It’s about being there, being part of the discussion, exploring ideas and options that might get us closer to a two-state solution,” Kirby said.
But Kerry’s presence in Paris worries Israelis who fear that the international community is going to press them to end the 49-year military occupation of the West Bank and the partial trade and travel blockage of Gaza, and to stop ongoing construction of Jewish settlements on land the Palestinians want for a future state.
The Israelis also have their eyes on the calendar. They are concerned that the Obama administration will, before leaving office, enshrine a two-state solution in a speech or a U.N. resolution, in effect laying out the final status ahead of negotiations.
Kerry spent nine months trying to bring the two sides together in 2014. The talks ended in recriminations about who was to blame for their failure.
Across the political spectrum in Ramallah and Jerusalem, nobody holds out much hope for the French effort.
French diplomats shrug and say in briefings with journalists, “We have to do something.”
In Israel, there is a feeling that something is happening.
Just this week, the once-moribund Arab Peace Initiative is back in the game after years on the sidelines.
Proposed by Saudi Arabia in 2002, the deal offers the idea that the Arab states will normalize relations with Israel after Israel withdraws from the occupied territories — including East Jerusalem — and begins the process of allowing for a Palestinian state.
Former Israeli governments have been hostile or lukewarm to the Arab proposal.
Former prime minister Ariel Sharon called the Arab Peace Initiative a “nonstarter” when it was proposed.
This week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the Arab peace offer intriguing. But Netanyahu also suggested that the Arab states recognize Israel first as Israel makes moves toward giving the Palestinians a state.
That will be a tough sell in the Arab League.
Into this mix comes former British prime minister Tony Blair, who has been shuttling between Egypt, the Arab Gulf states and the Israelis, trying to broker a way to get the sides talking.
Also intriguing, Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi said in a recent speech that he thinks the time is ripe to revisit a deal between Israel and the Palestinians.
The French seem ready to press ahead with what they see as a solution to the conflict — including what borders should look like for a Palestinian state and whether Palestinians should have a capital in Jerusalem.
The French also may try to set deadlines for future talks. If their efforts fail, French diplomats have warned that they may unilaterally recognize a Palestinian state. [Continue reading…]