A Tragedy of Errors: U.S. Incompetence in Israel-Palestine Talks, Part II

An edited version of this piece appeared at LobeLog. If you missed Part I, check it out here.

In part one of this piece, I began sketching the picture that emerges from the words of U.S. diplomats to an Israeli reporter. There’s

As Abbas and Obama grimly cast their eyes down, Bibi savors a triumph over hope and peace.

As Abbas and Obama grimly cast their eyes down, Bibi savors a triumph over hope and peace.

more here, and the image that emerges is one where the United States is ultimately the responsible party for the failure of not only this round of peace talks, but one after another of them. I’ll start here by completing the analysis of what was reported in YNet.

On the Israeli demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a “Jewish state,” the group of anonymous U.S. diplomats told Israeli reporter Nahum Barnea: “We couldn’t understand why it bothered him (Abbas) so much. For us, the Americans, the Jewish identity of Israel is obvious. …The more Israel hardened its demands, the more the Palestinian refusal deepened. Israel made this into a huge deal – a position that wouldn’t change under any circumstances. The Palestinians came to the conclusion that Israel was pulling a nasty trick on them. They suspected there was an effort to get from them approval of the Zionist narrative.”

Seeing this in print really did shock me. There were three objections to this idea from the Palestinians. They were there all along, yet the U.S. speakers seem aware of only one of them. That one is the validation of the Zionist narrative over the Palestinian. The other two were that such recognition (a thing unheard of in international relations, one hastens to add, and something which Israel demands only from the Palestinians and no one else) would necessarily give a Palestinian stamp of approval to discrimination against non-Jews in Israel, most of whom are Palestinian; and that it would, by definition, preclude the question of the return of Palestinian refugees, a matter Abbas may be resigned to, but which he wants to deal with in negotiations in the hope that some redress for the refugees can be settled upon. Continue reading

A Tragedy of Errors: U.S. Incompetence in Israel-Palestine Talks, Part I

An edited version of this piece appeared at LobeLog.

On May 2 Israel’s most widely read newspaper, Yediot Ahoronot, published an article that blows the lid off of the failure of United 4688994752_853e3d2f46_bStates Secretary of State John Kerry’s attempt to resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict. Nahum Barnea, one of Israel’s best known reporters, got several U.S. officials who were involved with the talks to open up to him, anonymously, about what happened.

Barnea says that the version the U.S. officials present “… is fundamentally different to (sic) the one presented by Israeli officials.” The implication from Barnea, and the way most will read the U.S. revelations, is that it was basically Israel’s fault that the talks failed. But a more sober and critical reading of what these officials say paints a different picture than the ones that the Israeli government, Barnea, or most of the initial reactions do.

In fact, what comes out is that Israel was not the primary culprit here. As has long been the case, the main reason for the failure of talks was and is the United States.

Combining amazing ignorance not only of the Palestinians but also of Israel and its politics, with a hint of anti-Semitism and a contemptuous attitude toward the Palestinians, tossing in some willful blindness to the realities on the ground and in the offices of politicians, the United States initiated a process that put the final nail in the two-state solution as it has been understood for years. Some, myself included, might consider that a good thing, as it raises the opportunity for re-thinking all the options, including other ways to conceive of two states (which I favor), as well as one state ideas. But the way this has come about has strengthened hard-liners in Israel, made the United States Congress even more myopic in its blind support for Israel and made it less likely that there will ever be a negotiated, rather than a violent, resolution to this conflict. In any case, this latest episode has quite likely kicked any resolution even farther into the future than it already was. Continue reading

Was the Palestinian Reconciliation Deal a Mistake?

At +972 Magazine my friend and colleague, Larry Derfner, a former columnist for the Jerusalem Postsays he believes that by deciding to go forward with a third unity agreement with Hamas at this time, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas “has shot the cause of Palestinian independence in the foot.” Put bluntly, I disagree completely, and I told Larry so publicly on his Facebook page.

Larry basically argues that the recent collapse of the peace talks has been almost universally blamed on Israel, and that this created an opportunity for Abbas to build some real support in the international community, including from major powers. But the distaste for Hamas’ policies undermines that opportunity, so why couldn’t Abbas have waited until after he made some hay out of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s obstructionism?

Larry is correct in saying that a unified Palestinian government, if that is what results from this agreement (far from a sure thing) carries certain problems, and most of them are based on how the world sees Hamas. The Saudis and the al-Sisi government in Egypt certainly don’t care for Hamas, and neither does much of Europe or Russia. But when Larry says that Hamas is considered “anathema” he is vastly overstating the case outside of Israel and the United States, two parties which most Palestinians have realized are working day and night to keep the occupation going. Abbas may have finally acknowledged that reality as well.

In any case, my argument here is an edited and somewhat fleshed out version of what I said to Larry on Facebook, which involved a brief dialogue.

The reconciliation move was not primarily about Israel, it was about Palestine, and the very drastic need there for a legitimate government. That tank has just about hit zero for both the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Hamas.

Secondarily, it is also about the long-delayed realization that Israel will never sincerely pursue peace with the Palestinians, and that this is not because of Netanyahu-Bennett-Lieberman, but because of simple political realities wherein Israel has little compelling reason to make peace and tons of political pressure not to. It is also about the fact that U.S. President Barack Obama has demonstrated, in a more overtly “pro-Israel” way than George W. Bush did, that the United States will never, ever be a help in this regard, and rather only a hindrance.

However, the Israel-U.S. part, remains secondary. Their obstructionism is why considerations of Israeli and U.S. reactions aren’t stopping Palestinian reconciliation — but that is not the reason reconciliation is happening. This reconciliation is a dire Palestinian necessity. That is so primarily for reasons of having a legitimate and representative leadership, which Palestine has not had since 2006, when the elections and their aftermath robbed the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) of that legitimacy and left both Fatah and Hamas without it. A unified Palestinian leadership will involve what is currently missing from both parties in terms of how they work on the international stage — popular support.

For Fatah, the timing is particularly advantageous because the shift in Egypt has weakened Hamas and, combined with Iran’s growing rapprochement with the West and the loss of Hamas’ base in Syria, Abbas finds himself in a position where he believes he can bring Hamas into the PLO but maintain Fatah’s superior position in that organization.

The US may well cut off funding. The Saudis have indicated in the past that they will boost their own support in such a case, but Saudi pledges to the Palestinians are notoriously unreliable, and they are also deeply unfriendly to Hamas. But the intra-Palestinian conflict is also one of several stages where the Saudi-Qatar rivalry plays out, with Qatar backing Hamas and the Saudis supporting the PA. This surely leads Abbas to believe that the Saudis are more likely than usual to make good on their promises to the PA.

But even if the Saudis fall short on funding, the risk here is what? That the PA will collapse? If that comes about due to reconciliation, but is also accompanied by a stronger PLO, Fatah is better off, and quite likely in the long run (though certainly not the short), so are the majority of the Palestinians. Hamas, for its part, recognizes that it is very isolated and the horizon only looks worse for it in the Arab world. The Muslim Brotherhood has suffered a huge setback, focused in Egypt but also throughout the region, and its opponents are pressing their advantage.

Obviously, Hamas is a target in this regard, being generally viewed as a branch of the Brotherhood. It therefore desperately needs to reinforce its identity as the Palestinian resistance movement. It also needs to renew its connections and focus on other Palestinians movements as opposed to other Arab movements.

These are all reasons for Palestinian reconciliation, and why this moment is a good time for it. Meanwhile the reactions of Israel and the United States don’t really figure into Palestinian motivations for this decision. Indeed, given the visceral, and, it should be noted, not unmerited hatred for Hamas in Israel (and this is not at all confined to the right-wing) and the hysteria it receives in the United States, where Congress has legislated far stronger measures against any dialogue with Hamas than Israel, the reactions from Washington and Jerusalem would be the same whenever an agreement was signed. The European Union and United Nations have always expressed support for Palestinian reconciliation. After all, it was Israel itself that argued that Abbas couldn’t make a deal that would stick because he didn’t represent all Palestinians. So, everyone outside of the US and Israel wanted this to happen. But it happened for Palestinian reasons. The moment was helped along by the United States reaching new heights of prevarication and fecklessness under John Kerry’s watch, and by Netanyahu’s refusal to even pretend to be interested in an agreement; those events merely made it easier for reconciliation to happen.

All of this pre-supposes that this deal will actually be implemented, which is by no means certain. I think there’s basically a 50-50-percent chance that Abbas was sincere about this (I think it’s overwhelmingly likely that Hamas is serious for the reasons I just stated, and also because this involved the Gaza-Hamas leadership rather than the Khaled Meshal, exile branch). If Abbas wasn’t sincere, and if he does not intend to move forward with implementation and with elections in due course, he has forever sacrificed any chance of reaching a deal with Hamas, because they will never trust him again. Of course, at 79, Abbas won’t be there much longer in any case.

So, that would be one outcome. If Abbas does not intend to implement, then this is likely a strategy to try to convince the US and EU that he will take steps in the international arena, specifically at the UN and the International Criminal Court (ICC), if the West doesn’t exert serious pressure on Israel. If that is what he’s doing, that’s not very wise, because he will have burned the Hamas bridge, which he needs to cross at some point, and because no matter what the Palestinians threaten to do, there is no circumstance where they can ever hope to see serious positive action from the U.S. until the domestic political waves shift. The U.S. isn’t likely to change any time soon and it can’t be realistically affected by Abbas anyway.

In either case, Israel and the U.S. have made their own positions on Palestinian freedom clear: they will only impede it. Therefore, such concerns only need to be taken into account due to the balance of power, but allowing those concerns to stop action will only deepen the problems faced by the Palestinians.

On the most basic level, if we agree that ending the occupation in the near future is, for whatever reasons, not going to happen, then shouldn’t the Palestinians take a long-term step toward that possibility? The criticisms have mostly centered on timing, but anyone who wants to see a peaceful resolution of this conflict must agree that at some point, the Palestinians must have one clear leadership. Therefore, I can’t see how this hurts the goal of ending the occupation.

Any step the Palestinians take is going to be met with Israeli financial reprisals. But should they do nothing? There is a clear and obvious benefit here: No deal, even if one is reached, can possibly hold unless it includes agreement by legitimate representatives of the Palestinians. Just like in Israel, where its legitimate representatives are representing both those who want peace and those who want Greater Israel, the Palestinians’ body politic must also be legitimately represented. So, what better time is there to take such a step than now, when the Israeli government has clearly shown that it’s not interested in a 2-state solution and the US has also made it clear that it will (or can) do nothing to aid a sustainable solution no matter how obnoxiously Israel behaves?

If this is truly the beginning of Palestinian reconciliation, and that is a very big “if,” then this move will also push the Palestinians away from dependence on U.S. mediation and Israeli “largesse.” That’s a completely positive outcome. The problem in the talks, ultimately, is not Bibi’s obstructionism or the lack of a U.S. backbone. It is the fact that making peace is a huge political and ideological risk for both Israelis and Palestinians. While Palestinians have a compelling reason to take that risk, the potential benefits for Israel do not nearly match the potential risk, both perceived and actual. Israelis, even many who support a mutual peace, feel they are risking their very lives with a two-state solution. In that situation they will certainly be making territorial compromises, losing some water resources, and compromising their historical narrative.

In order to make those risks politically worthwhile, there must be carrots for positive action and sticks for failure. Both exist for the Palestinians, but Israel only sees some carrots, and even those are rather abstract and uncertain. The U.S. is not going to provide the sticks for the Israelis, as Yasir Arafat and, later, Abbas, once hoped. If Palestinian reconciliation makes way for another path in the international arena for them to find a few sticks, anyone who supports peace should support this move. The EU and UN know it. Even the Obama administration seems to hold some glimmer of this thought. More than a few in Israel understand that Palestinian reconciliation is a good thing for Israel as well. Only the Israeli right thinks otherwise, and the fact that they think this is a victory for them only reveals the bankruptcy of their analysis.

Oslo Process: The Walking Dead

John Kerry’s words at a report-back to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee sent shock waves all the way to Jerusalem. “Unfortunately, prisoners were not released on the Saturday they were supposed to be released,” he said. “And so day one went by, day two went by, day three went by. And then in the afternoon, when they were about to maybe get there, 700 settlement units were announced in Jerusalem and, poof, that was sort of the moment. We find ourselves where we are.”

That was well outside the usual boundaries of discourse for top US officials, and it certainly got noticed. Kerry’s own State Department subordinates quickly rushed to reaffirm that “…today, Secretary Kerry was again crystal clear that both sides have taken unhelpful steps and at no point has he engaged in a blame game.”

But the message was clear and Kerry himself has taken no steps to truly back off from it. He technically didn’t “blame” Israel. Rather, as he put it, “I only described the unfolding of events and the natural difficulties involved in managing such a complex and sensitive negotiation.”

The message, in a nutshell, is that the Obama administration is fed up with Bibi Netanyahu and his antics. That’s been welcomed by the vast majority of thinking analysts and observers who understood long ago that Israel has acted as the major obstacle to talks and that US pandering to Netanyahu was only going to harden the Israelis’ positions. But that welcome needs to be cooled a bit.

However frustrated Kerry may be by Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas declining to accept a US-brokered deal that was absurdly lopsided in Israel’s favor, the peace process must, apparently, go on. The United States continues intense efforts to bring the two sides back to the table despite the fact that months of talks have only been counter-productive and that the current goal of the talks is to find a framework for talks. At this point, the entire Oslo process is little more than a joke. If anything, it resembles a zombie from the television show, The Walking Dead — it’s really dead but it just keeps walking around and making noise.

Despite Kerry’s testimony, he’s staying in the business of bringing Israelis and Palestinians back to the table, and there’s one reason: the only goal remaining on the Obama administration’s agenda is to prevent the talks from completely breaking down on their watch. Yet it seems even that modest goal is beyond Kerry’s grasp. According to Israeli officials, the method for bringing the talks back to zombie-life is to re-issue the offer Abbas pre-empted with his application to fifteen international treaties and institutions. The only changes apparently on the table are compensation to Israel for Abbas’ heinous crime.

Despite Abbas’ unusually bold action in those applications, his track record of submission suggests he will cave-in again. Still, it’s hard to see how he can justify such a turnaround under these circumstances. So, it’s slightly more likely that he will not agree to this. But the most likely outcome is that the Israelis and Palestinians will continue to squabble, and that the deadline of April 29 will be upon us before Kerry can put the sham talks back together.

Given the beating the US is taking around the world over other issues, especially Ukraine; and the always-tenuous balance of maintaining the Iran nuclear talks, Kerry may have no choice but to finally give up on this poorly planned and even more poorly executed attempt to secure a resolution of the Oslo process. It’s now too late, but given the enormous amount of energy Kerry has devoted to this quixotic task, he may not be able to admit it. In any case, the US now must choose between looking foolish by giving up or looking even more foolish by pressing on in this effort when it’s clearly not prepared to do what it would take to get something done.

Abbas has pretty much mapped his post-talks course, and it certainly seems like most Palestinians are anxious to see it happen. That is, increased activism at the United Nations, including applying for accession to the Rome Statute, which would allow the Palestinians to bring Israeli leaders to the International Criminal Court on war crimes charges. Israel is very concerned about that, and that’s why despite the total harmlessness to Israel of the Palestinians’ fifteen international applications, Israel is reacting with increased threats, including an announced intention to steal the tax revenues Israel, by agreement, collects for the Palestinians.

In fact, it is in Israel where we have seen the most activity in response to the breakdown in talks, and none of it is encouraging. The Israeli opposition took days to comment. Zehava Gal-On, head of the left-wing Zionist Meretz Party had, as one would expect, the clearest criticism, saying Israel had given the United States “the finger.” The ostensible leader of the opposition, Isaac Herzog, was less harsh, but called for new elections. That would, however, be foolish as recent polls clearly indicate a strengthening of the right-wing majority. The two parties within Netanyahu’s coalition — HaTnuah and Yesh Atid — which are supposed to be holding Bibi’s feet to the peace talks fire, scrambled desperately to find credible ways to support Netanyahu instead.

Netanyahu’s critics have come from his right flank, in two different ways. First, Trade and Labor Minister, Naftali Bennett of the religious HaBayit Hayehudi (Jewish Home) party called for Israel to annex large chunks of the West Bank to punish the Palestinians for their fifteen applications. While there is no chance Israel will do that in the near future, Bennett has been pushing annexation since he rose to the top of his party and has vowed to intensify the public campaign in this direction. Given the ongoing rightward trend among Israeli citizens, this is a cause that could gain considerable momentum going forward.

Then, Netanyahu’s Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman continued his efforts to position himself as the next Prime Minister by meeting with Kerry and publicly stating that Kerry didn’t blame Israel for the breakdown. Lieberman thus gave the impression of himself as a true diplomat, an image the radically right-wing and historically undiplomatic leader of the largely Russian Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel Our Home) party, has been trying to cultivate ever since he came back to his post after being suspended while under investigation for corruption charges. Lieberman still invites great skepticism among Israelis, but his image is definitely improving.

Bennett, having gotten wind of the attempt by Kerry to revive the talks, then publicly declared that he would pull HaBayit HaYehudi out of the government if the previously arranged deal, or anything similar, went through. Bennett is known for bombast, and the fact is that this stance of his is not supported by his own party. Even HaBayit HaYehudi Housing Minister Uri Ariel, who played a central role in derailing the talks by announcing new settlement construction just as Kerry was trying to put a crutch underneath the discussions, disagrees with Bennett.

Still, these challenges from his right flank are serious for Netanyahu in the long-term, although right now, his popularity is rising among Israelis. That is probably more dismaying than anything else. Israel has, at last, killed the Oslo process and Abbas’ apparent willingness to continue working with the United States to keep them going for no discernible purpose is not winning him any points among his own public.

In the end, the situation is merely a more concentrated form of the one which has held for most of the Oslo era. The United States insists on both managing the process and keeping it going. It calls on the Israelis and Palestinians to make “hard choices” and take “bold steps,” yet administration after administration is unwilling to make its own choices and take its own steps in the face of expected political backlash to bring about a deal. Israel keeps its own goal front and center; that being to make sure that it minimizes, or even eliminates, the possibility of any significant Israeli concession. And the Palestinian people wait for a leadership that will defend their interests and recognize that cooperation with the United States will never get them to their goals of independence and self-determination.

Israel, the US and the Palestinians: A Recipe for Failure

When it comes to Israel and the Palestinians, it’s never foolish to be a pessimist. About fourteen months ago, when John Kerry began his quixotic task of driving the two parties toward a final agreement to end their conflict, there was a trickle of optimism from those who are irrevocably committed not just to a two-state solution, but specifically to the Oslo process. The pessimists, by contrast, came in all shades, with a variety of visions of failure. One of the most prominent theories was that this would be yet another US exercise in building talks to nowhere.

That is exactly where things stand now. US Secretary of State John Kerry went to Jerusalem on Monday in an attempt to save the talks after a deadline passed on March 29 for Israel to release the last 26 Palestinian prisoners it had agreed to let go in order to give Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (with whom Kerry was also supposed to meet, but the meeting was mysteriously cancelled at the last minute) the political space he needed to engage in talks with Israel. But what is it that he’s trying to save?

Kerry started on this road with the goal of reaching a final agreement. Then he scaled back the goal and declared that the April 29 deadline, which Abbas had vowed not to go past, would be the date by which a framework for continuing talks would be reached. Now the goal is merely to extend the talks beyond April 29 in order to find a framework. That is the very definition of pointless talks.

Kerry might or might not succeed in getting his extension. President Barack Obama is very much behind his efforts and that is not a force the Israelis, much less the Palestinians, can blithely ignore. But it raises the question: why even pursue this, especially now when the US is facing more pressing matters?

Advantage Israel

In the past, an argument could be made to keep talking, in order to push the Oslo process forward. But today, the Palestinians and Israelis are further away from an agreement than they have been at any time in over two decades, with growing animosity and mistrust. It is difficult to see where the Palestinians could possibly compromise more than they have on territory, Jerusalem, refugees and their own sovereignty. On the Israeli side, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is a relative moderate in a mostly far-right coalition that he has shown no inclination to abandon. On the contrary, he is constantly moving to appease his right flank. Then there’s the question of why any Israeli leader would reach an agreement with the Palestinians. As Netanyahu put it, “In any case, there won’t be any deal without Israel knowing clearly what it will get in exchange.” And what can the Palestinians offer?

Netanyahu’s own Likud party has moved farther right, and much of it would like nothing better than to see an end to the negotiations with the Palestinians. They feel that Israel could then start contemplating and preparing, both politically and physically, unilateral moves, up to and including annexing major chunks of the West Bank, or even all of it. But Bibi himself understands that ongoing talks reduce the pressure on Israel from Europe and other, non-US powers. And, of course, they keep the United States happy.

For Israel, whether the talks collapse or not, the situation is eminently workable. If they fall apart, it was the Palestinians, they will say, who stopped talking. For the right-wing governing coalition, the increase in heat from Europe and potential Palestinian legal action at the United Nations or the Hague will be more than offset by their perceived freedom to act unilaterally. If the talks continue, Israel is right where it is today, which is not a bad position from Netanyahu’s and much of the current government’s point of view, even for those for whom continuing talks is less than optimal.

Talks for the sake of talks

In reality, the party that really wants these talks to continue is the United States.

There are many false clichés that have been uttered about the Oslo peace process. Among the falsest has always been “The US cannot want peace more than the parties do.” In fact, it can, and current events prove it can even want negotiations more than the parties do. The Obama administration is really the only one that fully benefits from continuing the talks, and that’s why there is such a major push now to save them.

One would normally wonder why, when the United States is facing its most serious confrontation with Russia in a quarter of a century, the Secretary of State would head to Israel not to bring results but merely to continue talks, which virtually no one believes will succeed.

On Monday news broke that the Obama administration was considering playing one of its biggest cards with a right-wing Israeli government, freeing the convicted American spy for Israel, Jonathan Pollard. They’d do this not to wring major concessions that could be part of a foundation for a permanent deal from Israel but merely to keep the current talks afloat. Again, why? It seems like an awfully high price for a miniscule return.

Right now, for the Obama administration, this is all about timing, and that’s why just getting an extension of the talks is so important. Obama is taking a major beating over his handling of Russia and Ukraine, even from some erstwhile supporters of his foreign policy. His party is in serious danger of losing the Senate in November, leaving both houses of Congress in the hands of Republicans whose sole focus is opposing and undoing anything Obama has ever done or will do. The growing ability of Obama’s rivals on Capitol Hill to paint the president as weak-willed could also present serious problems in other foreign policy areas, especially the nuclear talks with Iran.

Put plainly, Obama cannot afford to have another foreign policy failure on his hands right now. This is especially true in so politically sensitive an arena as Israel and after putting so much of his administration’s energy into this effort from day one of his second term. Obama and Kerry are not blind; they know very well that there is no longer any chance of bringing Netanyahu and Abbas to an ultimate agreement, and that whether talks continue or not, each passing day drives hope for a resolution farther away, rather than bringing it closer. They know the talks will fail, they just need them to fail at a later date, one which, hopefully, will be less damaging to the administration’s overall foreign policy for the next three years.

Sidelined Palestinians

If the Israelis see a win in either direction, and the United States needs the talks to continue, the Palestinian Authority has absolutely no interest in extending the deadline for negotiations. Back in January 2013 Mahmoud Abbas might have held some slim hope that a second-term Obama presidency with Kerry leading the State Department would pressure Israel in a way that hasn’t been seen in decades to finally quit the West Bank. As naïve as that sounds, one could have built a credible case for a slim possibility of that back then.

But now the Palestinians have watched as Kerry caved in at every turn to the Israelis. He agreed that Israeli security would be the top priority above Palestinian freedom; that an Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley after the ostensible end of the occupation was acceptable; that negotiations must be held despite ongoing Israeli settlement expansion; and in the most stunning example of lack of spine, Kerry agreed that the Palestinians should recognize Israel as a Jewish state. The idea that there would be any kind of pressure from Washington other than the political theater built on the lack of rapport between Obama and Netanyahu was definitively ruled out by John Kerry.

Instead, the Palestinians are being pressured to forego their red line, which was negotiating past the deadline that Kerry himself set. They are being pressured to continue to refrain from pursuing the legal channels that are open to them in the international system as well. For eight months, talks have dragged on with nothing whatsoever to show for it. And if there is one clear result of the two decades of the Oslo process, it is that from top to bottom in Palestinian society, patience has completely run out with talks that produce nothing while the settlements expand and the occupation tightens. The Palestinians only lose by extending talks. The only Palestinians who gain are the very few among the leaders, Abbas, lead negotiator Saeb Erekat, and their cohorts. The Palestinian Authority exists in the diplomatic arena only to pursue the US-brokered peace process. If it ends, so does the PA’s usefulness as the national leadership and they know it.

The three parties have three very different agendas, and that is very far from a recipe for success. Israel will do all right in any case, at least in the short term, and the United States may very well get what it wants through the sheer exercise of power. But in terms of the ostensible goal of Palestinian freedom, the Palestinians have absolutely no reason to continue these talks. If they agree to do so, it might well be seen as the final, quisling act of betrayal by a powerless leadership that thought it could sit down with one regional and one global superpower and be treated as an equal.