Column: A Refresher Course for Following the Revived Peace Talks
Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters in Amman, Jordan, on Friday that his shuttle diplomacy in the Middle East is paying off. “We have reached an agreement that establishes the basis for resuming direct final status negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis,” he proclaimed. Remember the peace process? After three years of dormancy, it’s back.
Well, maybe. “The agreement is still in the process of being formalized,” Kerry hedged, but Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni will meet in Washington to continue planning.
In case you’ve forgotten what all this means, here’s a handy guide to the buzzwords you’ll be hearing for the next few weeks.
Preconditions: What’s keeping these talks from being “formalized”? Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have been reticent to sit down at the same table without a general framework and some early concessions. A reported stumbling block in Kerry’s latest push to re-establish talks has been Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ insistence that Israeli negotiators propose a border for a potential Palestinian state and agree to a settlement freeze.
Settlement Freeze: A perennial problem in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, Palestinian officials regularly call for the Israeli government to halt the construction of settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, places that Palestinian negotiators hope to claim for a Palestinian state. Many Palestinians consider the proliferation of settlements in the West Bank, often subsidized by the Israeli government, to be a tacit effort to informally annex the West Bank. The more settlements that are built, they argue, the harder it will be to reach a two-state solution based on the 1967 border.
1967 Border: At the start of the Six Day War in 1967, Gaza was held by Egypt, the Golan Heights by Syria, and the West Bank by Jordan; after the Six Day War, Israel had pushed its Arab neighbors to the Sinai Peninsula to the West, to the Jordan River to the East, and out of the Golan, and its occupation of these new territories has continued since (except for Gaza, from which Israel withdrew but has since subjected to a military blockade to isolate Gaza’s Hamas-led government). The two-state solution is premised on a Palestinian state established in the Gazan and West Bank territory held by Egypt and Jordan at the start of the Six Day War. But those exact borders, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has argued, have become indefensible, and Israeli negotiators are pushing to retain settler-held territory in the West Bank.
Right of Return: Palestinian negotiators argue that Palestinians and their descendents displaced by the 1948 war and the establishment of Israel should be allowed to return to the homes they fled. Israeli negotiators have consistently resisted the resettlement of Palestinian refugees to Israel, arguing that it is logistically not feasible and would alter the fundamental identity of the Israeli state.
Recognition as a Jewish State: The last round of talks fell apart when Palestinian negotiators reportedly would not concede that Israel is a “Jewish state” in exchange for a settlement freeze. The identity of Israel has become an increasing priority for Israeli negotiators over the past decade as Israel has faced growing demographic challenges.
Missed Opportunity : Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs Abba Eban famously accused Palestinian negotiators of “never missing⅜ an opportunity to miss an opportunity,” but it could be said of all the parties involved, including, often, the United States. This latest round of talks could well be yet another “missed opportunity” for all involved. See also: the 2010 negotiations, the Annapolis Conference, the Roadmap for Peace, the Clinton administration’s Camp David Summit, the Oslo Negotiations, the Madrid Conference, etc.
J. Dana Stuster is an assistant editor at Foreign Policy.