On Tuesday afternoon, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry held a press conference in which he laid out his timeline for final status negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, calling for a final agreement within nine months. This is not the first time such an announcement has been made by a U.S. official – in fact, every U.S. President since Jimmy Carter has made similar proclamations.
Palestinians across the political spectrum are cynical and pessimistic about the upcoming peace talks, as they say every past negotiation and agreement has resulted in the Palestinian people losing more land, more political power and more rights. Protests were held on Friday challenging the decision of the Fateh party to return to the negotiating table on behalf of the Palestinian people. Many protesters point out that the current Palestinian Authority lacks legitimacy, since the terms of the officials currently in office ran out three years ago, but no new elections have been held.
U.S. government officials with the Obama administration told reporters on Tuesday that while the negotiations are in progress, the Palestinian Authority is expected to cease its effort to achieve a statehood recognition at the United Nations, and to not bring charges against Israeli officials before the International Criminal Court.
In his statement, Kerry challenged what he called ‘pernicious attacks on Israel’s legitimacy’, and said that such attacks must halt during the negotiations. But he did not specifically address what those attacks were, and who is supposed to have made them.
The talks will take place in Washington, and no pre-conditions have been publicly stated. Previously, the Palestinian President (currently unelected) Mahmoud Abbas had said that he would only return to negotiations with the Israeli government if Israel recognized the 1967 border with Palestine or froze new settlement construction, and agreed to release all of the Palestinian prisoners abducted since the Oslo Accord went into effect in 1993.
Israeli officials have made no such recognition, and have stated that they might release up to 100 of the over 4,000 Palestinians currently imprisoned inside Israel. No Israelis are being held by Palestinians in prisons.
Following Kerry’s announcement, Democratic U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein introduced a bill supporting Kerry’s effort, stating that the two-state solution is the only way to “ensure the State of Israel’s survival as a secure, democratic homeland for the Jewish people”. Currently the bill is supported by only Democratic Senators, with no Republicans signing on. Neither Kerry nor Feinstein have addressed the question of how the two-state solution is possible, given the ‘facts on the ground’ of over 500,000 Israeli settlers who have established colonies on Palestinian land in the West Bank. Though Kerry says the question of settlements will be addressed in negotiations, many Palestinians have questioned this decision, saying that a settlement freeze must be put into effect before the negotiations begin.
Palestinian political analyst Mazin Qumsiyeh wrote today, in a challenge to the Palestinian Authority’s selection of Saeb Erekat to negotiate on behalf of the Palestinian people, “This is the same Erekat who has been fruitlessly ‘negotiating’ for 20 years along the same lines (hence his book titled “Life is negotiations”). It is the same person who the Palestine Papers leaked to AlJazeera was shown giving one after another concession while the Israeli side yawned and asked for more.”