In a move applauded in the Arab world, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has walked away from Jordanian-sponsored peace talks with Israel ahead of a deadline today to submit proposals on borders and security. The deadline had been established by the Middle East Quartet (United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia) last fall.
Israel had submitted a list of 21 issues for discussion, but Palestinians had wanted explicit concessions and complained that Israel’s submission included “nothing new.” The Israeli government reiterated its commitment to seeking a peace agreement by the end of the year, partly to satisfy the aspirations and insistent demands of U.S. President Barack Obama.
Peace talks that coincide with American presidential elections have a grim history, dating to the failed Camp David talks in 2000, right up through the Annapolis process of 2007-8.
Each side may hope to obtain more favorable terms depending on the outcome of the elections in November. Coincidentally, both Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu face political pressures at home, with new Palestinian elections set for May 4 and Israel’s opposition pushing for early elections in what Israel’s left-wing daily Ha’aretz has called “the last battle” for opposition leader Tzipi Livni.
The Arab Spring has also complicated Middle East diplomacy and removed the urgency of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as it has become clear that the conflict is not the central obstacle to regional progress. Settlements, which Israel left behind in Gaza in 2005 and whose growth elsewhere has been restrained in recent years, are frequently cited by Palestinian negotiators as a stumbling block. Ultimately, however, what stalls the peace process is the lack of Palestinian commitment to Israel’s right to exist, and the continued Palestinian strategy of pushing for radical preconditions through international forums, a sympathetic White House, and the threat of terror against Israeli civilians–sometimes explicit, and always implicit.