Jumpstarting the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

26 september 2017

Zvi Magen - Research Fellow, Institute for National Security Studies, Tel Aviv University. Former Israeli ambassador to Russia.

Vera Michlin-Shapir - Neubauer Research Associate at INSS.

Resume: A series of diplomatic talks, which took place on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, touched on Middle Eastern affairs and specifically on the revival of the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process. This had seemed to have been high on President Trump’s agenda, when he met Prime Minister Netanyahu, President of the Palestinian Authority Abbas and the Egyptian President el-Sisi.

The US effort to break the deadlock in which the peace process has been in recent years had intensified approximately a year ago. This was done in parallel, and possibly as a response, to Russian efforts to bring the sides together, which included a call to the Arab League to create a regional umbrella for an initiative. Yet, the US efforts led by the Obama Administration, that should break the stalemate that the process ran into after earlier trials, did not bear fruit.

President Trump had put his weight behind ‘ultimate deal’ in the Middle East. He personally entrusted the issue with two of his most valued allies to address the matter – his former legal councilor Jason Greenblatt and his son-in-law Gerald Kushner. They delivered the details of Trump’s new approach to the sides. Recently, their efforts received another push at the UN General Assembly.

According to media reports the push forward was mustered around a new US initiative that has been formed in recent months. This initiative is also based on a regional approach, which was coordinated with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Israel. The discussed plan is envisioned as a temporary agreement, which will be realized in several steps: first, an internal Palestinian reconciliation as a precondition to further talks; second, Israeli-Palestinian direct talks about the phased establishment of a Palestinian state with temporary borders; third, a regional summit in Cairo together with the US, Egypt and Jordan, which will discuss further arrangements; last, a discussion of core disputed issues.

These reports have been most fervently denied by the Palestinians, and President Abbas, who in the current climate, are not interested in any specific initiative. Externally, they are under pressure from Egypt and other countries to pursue reconciliation with Hamas. Internally, they struggle with the ensuing battle for leadership, as part of the seemingly nearing departure of Abbas from Presidency. This puts him in no position to pursue the US initiative. Hence, the US initiative, which may have received support from regional actors, did not get signs of support, at least not publicly, from Abbas, who has ever been more aggressive in his speech to the Assembly.

In this political context, the White House is expected to apply moderate pressure and back-door diplomacy to push forward the new US initiative. It seems that lessons had been learned from the experience of the previous administration, which by some accounts applied serous pressure to achieve a breakthrough, that did not happen. Hence, it is likely that the coming months will be devoted to quiet arbitration efforts between the sides by US envoys with the aim of jumpstarting the process before too long.     

Russia, despite its clear interest and commendable efforts to assist the process, remains at this stage outside the framework of the new efforts. Despite the uncertain future of the new initiative, in the coming months Russia would be wise to join regional efforts and provide constructive support for what might be a genuine chance to make progress in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Valdai International Discussion Club

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