Do the Americans know how to do peace talks? Can they get a final status agreement within nine months?

Well, they have tried it before — the Annapolis process, Wye River, Camp David July 2000 and let’s not forget former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker announcing “here’s my phone number, call me when you’re ready”…]

Kerry's Iftar - full table - US State Dept on Monday 29 July 2013

Kerry’s Iftar – full table – US State Dept on Monday 29 July 2013

Above photo Tweeted by @michelghandour + posted here

Secretary Kerry Iftar dinner for Israeli + Palestinian Negotiators
Secretary Kerry Iftar dinner for Israeli + Palestinian Negotiators

Photo taken + Tweeted by AP Photographer Charles Dharapak + posted here

Israerli + Palestinian negotiators at Secretary Kerry Iftar Dinner
Israeli + Palestinian negotiators at Secretary Kerry Iftar Dinner

Photo taken + Tweeted by AP Photographer Charles Dharapak + posted here

So, as Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said at a joint press conference in Washington on Tuesday evening [with an emotion-laden voice, before apparently impulsively kissing U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on both cheeks],  there’s now a second chance:

“A new opportunity is being created for us, for all of us, and we cannot afford to waste it…”

Saeb Erekat + John Kerry + Tzipi Livni after press conference Tuesday
Saeb Erekat + John Kerry + Tzipi Livni after press conference Tuesday

Photo taken + Tweeted by AP Photographer Charles Dharapak + posted here

Kerry said, at the beginning of the press conference on Tuesday, that:

“As all of you know, it has taken an awful lot of work and a long time, a lot of time, to reach this new moment of possibility in the pursuit of an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”.

He said one striking thing at the end of his prepared remarks:

“I think everyone involved here believes that we cannot pass along to another generation the responsibility of ending a conflict that is in our power to resolve in our time. They should not be expected to bear that burden, and we should not leave it to them. They should not be expected to bear the pain of continued conflict or perpetual war”.

And in between, he said:

“The United States will work continuously with both parties as a facilitator every step of the way. We all understand the goal that we’re working towards: two states living side by side in peace and security. Two states because two proud peoples each deserve a country to call their own. Two states because the children of both peoples deserve the opportunity to realize their legitimate aspirations in security and in freedom. And two states because the time has come for a lasting peace.

We all appreciate – believe me – we appreciate the challenges ahead. But even as we look down the difficult road that is before us and consider the complicated choices that we face, we cannot lose sight of something that is often forgotten in the Middle East, and that is what awaits everybody with success. We need to actually change the way we think about compromise in order to get to success. Compromise doesn’t only mean giving up something or giving something away; reasonable principled compromise in the name of peace means that everybody stands to gain. Each side has a stake in the other’s success, and everyone can benefit from the dividends of peace.

We simply wouldn’t be standing here if the leaders – President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu – and their designated negotiators and all of us together didn’t believe that we could get there”…

A few weeks ago, just after Kerry’s flying visit to Ramallah on 19 July, Rami G. Khouri wrote here: “I have not given up hope that a negotiated peace can one day be achieved, but I pretty much have given up hope that it can be attained through renewed negotiations mediated these days by the United States … It is impossible to expect both sides under their current leaderships to make major substantive concessions on core issues simply in order to get to the negotiating table, where they will not be able to agree on a final accord that addresses the big sticker items of land, settlements refugees, and Jerusalem. The strategy now being used seeks to formulate vague agreements simply to resume negotiations will not work because the imprecision of positions on settlements, borders or mutual recognition necessary to restart the talks only cements the inability of both sides to achieve a permanent, comprehensive agreement”.

So what happened in the last ten days? One thing, apparently, was the U.S. issuance of still-unpublished “letter[s] of assurance”, in which the American administration took a stand in favor of concrete positions [such as, the negotiations will be based on pre-4-June 1967 borders, which changed things for the Palestinians…]

US President Obama + VP Biden meet Palestinian + Israeli negotiators
US President Obama + VP Biden meet Palestinian + Israeli negotiators

This photo was Tweeted by the US State Department and is posted here.

Now, Khouri wrote, in a piece entitled “What Do We Learn from 45 Years of Negotiations?”, syndicated by Agence Global and posted here, that he was disappointed in Kerry’s call, Monday [and Tuesday] for a “reasonable compromise” — Khouri said Kerry “sounded more like a high school guidance counselor speaking to teenagers who had an argument”.

Then, Khouri added:

“Watch for hints from the American mediators about whether this process is heading for serious, historic deal-making or is simply another cosmetic diplomatic diversion. The positions of the two Israeli and Palestinian protagonists are well known and will not evolve very much, especially given the domestic constraints on both sides. This resumed negotiation is very much an American product, and therefore Washington’s position will drive events to a great extent. The three principal actors on the American side — Barack Obama, John Kerry and Martin Indyk — have no significant successes in this realm, and many failures. They must indicate very soon whether, in public or in private, they plan to replay the failed old mediating methods of the past or try a new approach that holds out more chances for success…

History remains a compelling teacher, so we should assess chances for success on the basis of comparisons to previous negotiations. Many failures are well documented, but successful ones also teach us much. The failed “peace process” initiatives started in early 1968, in the wake of the 1967 war, when the UN Security Council named Swedish diplomat Gunnar Jarring to try and implement UN Security Council Resolution 242. The next year, U.S. Secretary of State William Rogers, formally launched his plan for a Middle East peace settlement, based on Resolution 242. The Jarring and Rodgers Plans both failed to gain traction, due to objections by both Arabs and Israelis. Ever since we have witnessed scores of failed attempts to negotiate Arab-Israeli peace agreements, most of them unsuccessfully mediated by the United States. We should keep in mind the reasons for the failures, and make sure they are not repeated now…

The last two decades of talks since the Madrid negotiations have outlined where agreements can be reached on core issues like security, settlements, sharing Jerusalem and borders. I would watch for indications of a serious commitment to address the two remaining big issues that are the heart of this conflict now: Are the Israelis prepared to address and share in resolving the central Palestinian issue, which is refugeehood, and all the rights that this issue raises? Are the Palestinians prepared to address the Israeli demand for recognition and full, normal relations with a Jewish-majority state? Addressing these two central demands will certainly require ‘reasonable compromises’ from the principals, but also much more than that from statesmen and women prepared to make history, rather than just mark time”.

Bloomberg Columnist Jeffery Goldberg lists seven reasons why he’s sceptical, here, and adds:

“I actually admire Kerry’s chutzpah a great deal. It’s important, for the sake of the Israeli and Palestinian peoples, that a compromise is constructed in a way that prevents further bloodshed. I just hope that there’s a secret Plan B — some sort of interim arrangement that could forestall further tragedy even in the absence of a permanent accord. Because if there isn’t, and Kerry’s negotiations fail, then the situation next year may be even unhappier than it is now”.

Al-Hayat Washington Correspondent Joyce Karam reported here that:

“In an interview in Doha last month during the U.S.-Islamic forum hosted by Brookings, Indyk told the pan-Arab al-Hayat newspaper that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry does not want the window for the two-state solution to close on his watch, and that is why he has taken up the challenge to resurrect the peace process and pursue a final status agreement in nine months. Indyk sees the Arab Peace Initiative, introduced in 2002 by Saudi Arabia, as a core component of any peace effort, in granting Abbas ‘an Arab League cover’ something that Arafat did not have during Camp David.
The new envoy is under no illusions, he spoke of ‘many hurdles’ along the way. The ‘split on the Palestinian side (between Fatah and Hamas), the nature of the Netanyahu government with a majority against a two-state solution makes it difficult for Netanyahu to commit to territorial concessions’, are among a few hurdles he mentions.
Indyk points out that Abbas wants a deal but lacks the ability to achieve it, while Netanyahu has the ability but maybe not the desire to reach such a deal. Ironically, his success will hinge on striking a balance between Abbas’s ability and Netanyahu’s will, and achieving what a long line of U.S. envoys have failed at: a final Palestinian-Israeli peace agreement.”

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