Israeli and American newspapers are reporting that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has agreed to a 90-day freeze on residential building in the West Bank. This is a crucial development in the stalled peace talks and will provide the impetus needed to resume the direct talks which fell apart earlier this fall. The 90-day period will be non-renewable and is hopefully enough to bring the Palestinians back to the negotiating table, even though the freeze will not include settlements in East Jerusalem.
The most recent round of negotiations (direct talks) broke down in September after the ten month building moratorium expired. (Haaretz Online). The Palestinians have refused to resume direct, or indirect, talks while Israeli settlers are building in what they view as their future capital. Almost two months after the disintegration of the talks, the Israeli Prime Minister has agreed to extend the settlement building freeze. This move should be interpreted as his willingness to move forward in the peace process while illustrating the fact that Israel will support its words with actions. By complying with Washington’s requests for a freeze, Israel is demonstrating its genuine desire to participate in peace negotiations. This is a necessary compromise if progress is to be made; but heavy sacrifices will have to be made on both sides and this is far from the last or most difficult one.
It has been reported that the Israelis were persuaded to cooperate by a package of incentives. According to an article on Al-Jazeera, there are two main components of the incentive package. First, the United States would give Israel around 20 fighter jets. Second, that the U.S. would veto United Nations resolutions that would take action against Israel, such as the Gaza Flotilla Inquiry or the Goldstone Report (Al-Jazeera Online). It would also prevent the Palestinian Authority from obtaining international recognition for a unilateral declaration of statehood (The New York Times). This guarantee eliminates the possibility of the international community recognizing Palestinian statehood without Israel’s consent. While the military incentive does not seem that different from the support Israel already receives from Washington, the guarantee of a veto regarding United Nations resolutions is a major step. This will give the Israeli government an ounce of protection from international accusations vis-à-vis its actions to maintain security. While navigating the unpredictable future of peace negotiations, this assurance will go far to reassure Israeli citizens.
Perhaps this latest development has been reported on too prematurely. It still has to be approved by Netanyahu’s cabinet and the Palestinians must agree to reconvene the talks as well. However, if this opportunity is to be fully taken advantage of, it must be seen by both sides as the moment to seize upon mutual cooperation and make strides towards negotiating a final peace agreement. Realistically, a final border agreement will not be possible in three months. However, a preliminary outline, which identifies which settlements would stay in Israeli hands and which would be given to Palestinians, could be agreed on in this limited time frame. If this preliminary outline could be established, it would make the settlement freeze irrelevant since by then it will have been determined which land Israel will retain or forfeit. If genuine progress is to be made, the next three months will be the true test of both sides’ commitment to a two state solution.
~ Alissa Aronovici