What’s the takeaway from the Netanyahu meeting with President Obama and what he actually tried to achieve this week with Mahmoud Abbas? Both sides will begrudgingly accept Secretary of State John Kerry’s framework for peace when he eventually discloses the details in public very soon – although both will articulate reservations. Both sides will agree to continue the discussions. Such a development would be considered a positive scenario.
The problem is that at the moment, all three parties to the discussions have their plates full of all types of other domestic and international issues – including a few with more existential questions than the peace talks.
The Obama Administration has the most going on and the most at stake. The Crimea crisis is extremely problematic and pre-occupying. Putin clearly is not caving in so fast, and the U.S. and its European allies have limited options. Russia’s veto at the U.N. last week was only the beginning of what undoubtedly will be a series of defiant Russian gestures in the face of Western exasperation, including a probable and eventual move on Eastern Ukraine.
The Syria tragedy drags on, while the joint U.S.-Russian deal to remove Syria’s chemical weapons is not made any easier by the renewed bilateral tension. Similarly, any expectation of serious Russian cooperation in the Iran talks will undoubtedly suffer. The disappearance of the Malaysian jet becomes more ominous daily, and any indication of terrorist involvement will demand extensive attention from an already overwhelmed Administration.
Israel understands all the U.S. has on its plate, but its own existential questions transcend being a sensitive friend. If all that Israel needed to do about the Iranian nuclear threat would be say to the U.S., “give us the tools and we will finish the job” both sides would be delighted; but as everyone knows it will be far more complicated the morning after. In addition, Israel has been dealing with intermittent rocket shelling from Gaza; Hezbollah’s increased engagement in Syria and its own weapons buildup; and the demand by Netanyahu that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a “Jewish state.”
Internally, Israel’s governing coalition continues to rattle along. No one is resigning but everyone is making noise. Netanyahu has never demonstrated boldness when it comes to acting on his own, and the current crisis does not suggest he is moving that way at all. He needed to support the haredi conscription bill but the timeline is so distant that there will be plenty of time to reconsider, especially if another faction should bolt and he winds up needing the fervently Orthodox to buttress his coalition.
Mahmoud Abbas is unable to find any way to move Hamas under his tent. Gaza remains very unfriendly territory for him. While the West Bank economy continues to grow, Abbas has remained publicly firm on most of the negotiating issues.
As the talks move into April, what is likely to emerge is an adoption of the framework by both sides, with enough escape clauses to allow them to change their minds. Israel will be likely to release another group of Palestinian prisoners, while the Palestinians will agree to some form of recognition of Jews and Israel without the explicit language Netanyahu has demanded. Finally, if both side can agree to extend the talks until year’s end, Obama can at least avoid having three deadlines – On Iran, Syria, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — all falling upon him at the same time.