Thursday, December 9, 2010

Is Israel to blame?

Leaders around the world are blaming Israel for the breakdown of the most recent peace talks. Mustafa Barghouti, a member of the Palestinian legislative council, voiced the opinion of most European and Arab leaders when he told Al Jazeera, "If the US, being the only country that is monopolising control of the talks, is failing to pressure Israel to abide by what was written in the road map and what the international community demands - which a complete freeze to settlement activities - then there is no peace process and the reason for this is Israel."

So is Israel really to blame?

Let's look at the facts.

On November 25, 2009, Israel imposed a 10-month moratorium on all West Bank settlement construction to help move the peace talks forward. The moratorium did not include Jerusalem. As Prime Minister Netanyahu said at the time, "Regarding Jerusalem, our sovereign capital, our position is well known. We do not put any restrictions on building in our sovereign capital."

After delaying for nine months, the Palestinian Authority finally agreed to begin direct negotiations. But 30 days later Israel's moratorium expired, and settlement construction resumed. The Palestinians walked away from the negotiations, and the U.S. began feverishly looking for ways to bring them back to the table.

The U.S. offered incentives to both Israel and the Palestinians if they would return to the talks. In exchange for a 90-day extension to the settlement moratorium Israel would receive U.S. assurances that they would not be pressured for any additional extensions and would be protected against any adverse actions against them by the U.N. Initial reports also hinted the U.S. would give Israel additional advanced fighter jets, but those reports turned out to be somewhat inaccurate. (Israel would need to pay for the airplanes.)

Netanyahu indicated his willingness to impose the additional 90-day moratorium if Obama's guarantees were put in writing. But the Palestinians chose to changed their conditions for resuming talks. A resumption of the previous moratorium was no longer sufficient. Now the moratorium on building needed to be extended to include Jerusalem. Israel refused, the "peace talks" totally collapsed...and nearly everyone is blaming Israel.

Was Israel to blame for wasting the first nine months of the initial 10-month moratorium? No, it was the Palestinians who didn't come to the negotiating table. Did Israel change the understanding regarding the extent of a second moratorium once a deal was almost complete? No, it was the Palestinians who demanded additional restrictions.

It seems to me the Palestinians are the ones who are doing everything possible to scuttle the negotiations. Perhaps we need to ask if they were ever really serious about reaching a deal in the first place.

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