Peace between Israel and Palestine seems to be a crown jewel locked away in a back room. But is the door shut forever? Certainly, no negotiations are currently underway. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won the March 17 Israeli election, backtracking on his half-hearted support for the two-state solution to the conflict and thumbing his nose at President Obama by accepting a Republican invitation to address a joint session of Congress without Obama’s knowledge. Forty-seven Republican members followed up his address with a further slap at Obama, sending a letter on nuclear negotiations to the Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, undercutting the President’s exercise of his constitutional responsibility over American foreign policy.
What next? We wait. Netanyahu is expected to form a government that will move Israel further right and further away from a two-state solution. The President and the U.S. foreign policy establishment will be relentlessly focused on the Iranian nuclear negotiations up to the deadline for agreement at the end of June. From the U.S. perspective, the next big moment of opportunity to restart the peace process may well be in the fall, following Pope Francis’ visit to the U.S. in September. France and other countries may force earlier action on the Israel-Palestine conflict. France has said it plans to introduce a resolution into the UN Security Council soon after a new Israeli government is formed with the terms of a framework agreement to end the conflict.
The WNDC held a forum on the status of Israel-Palestine negotiations on April 1. Joining Warren Clark, WNDC member and Director of Churches for Middle East Peace, was Alan Elsner, Vice President for Communications at J Street, a pro-Israel, pro-peace advocacy organization. Neither panelist was optimistic about the immediate future, especially for the outcome of the two-state solution that both espoused. In Elsner’s view, that dream is further away than it has been for some time.
Even a temporary suspension of negotiations is in itself a danger signal. The failure of Secretary of State Kerry’s peace initiative in the spring of 2014 was followed by the brutal war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. As Clark said, that war “supports the old adage that there is no status quo in the Middle East—either there is a political horizon and some hope that things will get better or for sure things will get worse. When they get worse people will get killed.”
Recent commentaries on the violence-torn Middle East focus increasingly on “state collapse,” especially evident in Syria and Iraq. In both these “countries,” it is difficult to envisage the reestablishment of a central government with security control, indeed any kind of sovereignty, over their external borders or internal ethnic and religious divides. These tectonic shifts arguably will impact the future of an Israel-Palestine settlement. Peace may come within a framework of a non-formal state creation as a defense against the state collapse and devolution of power to warlords in the neighborhood. Another new factor that could play a role is that the surrounding Arab states are focused on combating the Islamic Caliphate and may leave Israel and Palestine to work pragmatically to resolve their conflict.
Elizabeth Clark, Chair
International Affairs Task Force