GIVEN the fate of previous such ‘breakthroughs’, John Kerry’s announcement on the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian talks “in the next week or so” should be taken with a pinch of salt. The two sides have reached, according to the American secretary of state, an agreement “that establishes a basis for resuming direct final status negotiations”. The final status issues are what the Palestinian conflict is all about — Jewish settlements, a Palestinian state’s borders, the refugees’ return and Jerusalem. As he made the announcement in Amman on Friday, Mr Kerry must have known Israel’s inflexible position on these issues. All Israeli governments, including the one now headed by Benjamin Netanyahu, have made it abundantly clear they have no intention of scrapping Jewish settlements on the West Bank, including Jerusalem, which they consider Israel’s “eternal capital”. This flies in the face of President Barack Obama’s June 4, 2009, speech in which he had called upon Israel to stop work on the settlements. On the 1967 borders, President Obama ‘corrected’ himself within 24 hours of his May 2011 faux pas that aroused the wrath of the Israel lobby in America; and expecting Israel to accept the refugees’ return is unrealistic.
The only serious attempt at a two-state solution was made in 1993 by Bill Clinton when Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat signed the declaration of principles. However, after Rabin’s murder, Israeli governments wrecked it systematically. The resumption of talks must be welcomed for record’s sake. In truth, Israel has no intention of giving up the occupied territories, the promise to free Palestinian prisoners coming across as a PR job. Launching such talks satisfies Washington’s ego. For most others, it is a well-scripted farce that gives Israel time to gobble up occupied territory.