When the US secretary of state John Kerry left Israel and the Palestinian territories on the 30th of June, there had been no further progress in the peace talks.
Despite the lack of progress, he stressed that prominent positive steps have been made in the peace process. His four-day-long visit to the region was the fifth in three months.
During this time he talked separately to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, because the two leaders did not agree to resume direct talks. The Haaretz reporter Barak Ravid ironically described the separated negotiations as “diplotherapy”.
So why are there no direct talks between the two sides? Let’s approach this question by looking into what each side claims is preventing direct negotiations.
Israeli officials say they are ready to sit down at the negotiation table, and that it’s the Palestinian side that insistently refuses to negotiate.
The Palestinian attempt to achieve sovereignty by submitting a petition of membership-status to the UN, along with the many other independence-struggle-attempts are seen by Israel as “unilateral actions and attempts to forcing the [Palestinian] will on Israel”.
As appealing as this simplified and biased explanation of the lack of peace talks might be, it is hugely misleading.
The talks between the two leaders failed to take place mainly due to central obstacles remaining in the peace process.
Ever since the Camp-David-agreement and the Oslo-accords, the focus has been on a sustainable two state solution. But to arrive at that solution, the borders need to be redefined.
Today, the common proposal is to go back to the borders of 1967, which would return a large amount of land to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Along with the issue of the borders, some other challenges remain.
The illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian land, which have been rejected by the UN, are a major obstacle in the peace process. Palestinian and foreign politicians cite Israel’s refusal to immediately freeze the expansion of these illegal settlements as one of the main obstructions to peace.
U.S. President Barack Obama told Netanyahu to immediately stop the construction of the illegal settlements since “such an activity is not believed to be something that can advance the cause of peace”.
Despite these admonitions, Netanyahu approved the building of nearly 900 new settlements in Har Homa (Jabal Abu Ghneim), in the Palestinian part of southern Jerusalem later this year.
Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the PLO Executive Committee made this comment about the contradictive politics: “How can you talk about how to divide a pie equally while someone is eating it?”
During Kerry’s visit the spark of hope for a sustainable peace was once more seen, but when he left it was once again smothered. As the nine months pass before new talks are initiated, the two sides have been advised to not make any comments that could disturb the fragile process.
During this time, however, the Palestinian share of the pie keeps getting smaller.