The direct talks — for what purpose?

Late last week, Hillary Clinton announced that direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians will resume in early September. I continue to believe (1) that such talks are unlikely to result in an agreement and (2) that it would be a mistake for Israel to enter into agreement with Abbas, who presides over a crumbling political appartus and faces deadly opposition from Hamas. Neither members of the deadly opposition nor most members of the crumbling apparatus are interested in a stable arrangement that guarantees Israel’s safety or even its continued existence.
The prospects for successful talks seem so dim that Meyrav Wurmser, director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Middle East Policy, wonders whether the talks are really about reaching an agreement. She suggests that, instead, the Obama administration’s goal is to prevent violence from erupting in late September, when Israel’s temporary freeze on building new settlements expires.
Key members of Netanyahu’s coalition, including foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, have said there is no chance the freeze will be extended. Without Lieberman’s hard-line party, Netanyahu would lack a parliamentary majority. But, says Wurmser, if settlement building resumes, a third intifada could erupt, and it’s unlikely that the current Palestinian leadership would be able to stop it. Moreover, because the region as a whole is so volatile, a new intifada could lead to a broader regional conflict.
Wurmser believes that the September face-to-face talks might at least serve to avoid that bloody scenario.
Even this outcome is hardly assured. Wurmser herself points out that key portions of Netanyahu’s governing coalition are determined to end the building freeze. And, as the editors of the Jerusalem Post note, “to stop building in established, bustling Jewish neighborhoods such as Ramat Eshkol, East Talpiot or Ramat Shlomo, with the implication that this might signal their future evacuation, is incomprehensible from an Israeli perspective.”
But the prospect of an intifada, coupled with pressure from the Obama administration, might be enough to overcome these obstacles. Overcoming the obstacles to any sort of comprehensive settlement is another matter.


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