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by Ron Skolnik
WITH THE PROCEDURAL DISCUSSIONS BEHIND US, and with formal negotiations for Israeli-Palestinian peace scheduled to begin on Wednesday, Partners for Progressive Israel expresses its appreciation for the efforts of the many leaders — from Israel, Palestine, the US, the EU, the Arab League and elsewhere — who have created this new opportunity for diplomacy. With nine months allotted to these talks, we praise Secretary of State Kerry for fixing a specific time frame for the tough decisions to be made and a long-awaited final-status agreement to be concluded. We look forward with anticipation to the May 2014 target date.
Partners for Progressive Israel reiterates its strong support for a negotiated two-state solution in order to end the occupation that began in 1967 and achieve a lasting and secure Israeli-Palestinian peace. Nonetheless, negotiations cannot be an end in themselves, and Israel’s government would be foolhardy to ignore the growing restlessness in world capitals over the unending occupation. As President Obama already observed more than two years ago, “the international community is tired of an endless process that never produces an outcome.”
SHOULD THIS CURRENT ROUND OF NEGOTIATIONS FAIL TO YIELD A POSITIVE RESULT, it seems inevitable that various international actors will take the initiative out of Israeli and Palestinian hands and use the tools at their disposal to press for a resolution outside the framework of bilateral talks. The recent EU guidelines, understandably prohibiting support for Israeli entities operating beyond the Green Line, and last year’s commendable UN General Assembly decision to admit Palestine as a non-member observer state, are two examples of what lies in store.
The parties to the talks are also to be praised for their decision to keep the details of their negotiations under wraps. In the case of the Israel-Palestine conflict, progress is best made away from the microphones and cameras, to keep in check the domestic political pressures liable to arise on both sides.
But with words at a premium, the actions taken by both parties over the next nine months will reverberate even more loudly. Consequently, the Palestinian Authority must continue to do its utmost to prevent violence emanating from the territories under its control and put on hold its efforts to gain acceptance at international forums, such as the International Criminal Court.
ISRAEL, FOR ITS PART, MUST, FIRST AND FOREMOST, FREEZE SETTLEMENT EXPANSION. Such a step is necessary to reestablish its bona fides, amid speculation that it is seeking to drag out the process in order to temper international pressure as it consolidates its hold over the West Bank. Recent reports of major new settlement construction in the pipeline are therefore a cause for grave concern. Equally disconcerting is the new Israeli Cabinet decision that makes more than two-thirds of all West Bank settlements eligible for enlarged government grants, tax breaks, and other incentives.
With so much at stake these next nine months, Israel’s Prime Minister can no longer be allowed to cite “coalition constraints” as justification for an anti-peace policy. A majority of Israel’s Knesset members support a two-state solution. If this is truly Mr. Netanyahu’s strategic choice as well, he can and should fashion a coalition that is supportive of his professed policy goals.
Ron Skolnik, executive director of Partners for Progressive Israel, conducts “The View from Israel” column in Jewish Currents.