Israeli-Palestinian Talks at an Impasse

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Middle East In Focus

The current Palestinian-Israeli talks hosted by Jordan’s King Abdullah were meant to offer a venue where the two sides would begin to lay out their positions without the pressure of real negotiation. Unfortunately, even before this most recent attempt at dialogue, many expressed skepticism about the possibility of any progress between the two parties. The current status quo has been so untenable that many are seriously considering alternatives to the two-state solution or to the current path of a negotiated settlement.

There are some that think a breakthrough might come out of the meetings. For example, Gershon Baskin suggests in an op-ed on Jerusalem Post, “We are about to enter another one of those critical weeks in the chronicles of our peoples. Decisions with historic consequences could be made by the Israeli and Palestinian leaders in the coming days. Neither Israel nor Palestine has a real strategic alternative to a negotiated peace agreement that leads to the establishment of a nation-state of the Palestinian people, Palestine, next to the nation-state of the Jewish people, Israel, and the end of the conflict…. All three parties together should address possible mechanisms for solutions.”

Unfortunately, there has been little coming out of the talks to support this view. According to the Palestinian news website Ma’an News, “[A] PLO official, Hanan Ashrawi said Wednesday that peace talks with Israel are ‘futile’ as long as it continues its illegal policies against Palestinians…. Former PLO negotiator Nabil Shaath had said Wednesday that a 21 point proposal presented by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lacked any detail and was ‘rather a composition about peace done by a high school student.’ President Abbas also dismissed the 21 point document as worthless and said the main obstacles to resuming negotiations are Israeli settlements, above all in Jerusalem, and settler violence against Palestinian communities.”

In fact, the mood is such that the Oman Tribune editorial asserted that a “[w]alkout is justified…. Palestinians have threatened to cut off exploratory talks with Israel as construction of settlements on their occupied lands continues unabated….Although there is some talk of extending the January 26 deadline, it doesn’t seem logical to continue them if the advantage is heavily in Israel’s favor concerning its pushing of borders by establishing new settlements….The Israelis did not listen to the U.S. when they were asked to freeze settlements so that peace talks could resume, neither will they listen to the voice of UN chief Ban Ki-moon who said during a visit to the region this month.”

There are those who also think that the Palestinians have more to lose by engaging with the Israelis. In an op-ed on Al Qassam’s website, Khalid Amayreh wonders whether “the PA want[s] a deal with Israel by hook or by crook…. No Palestinian, or Arab or Muslim expects Chairman Abbas to transform himself into another Salahuddin (Saladin).  However, all Palestinians do expect Abbas to say ‘No’ to Israeli exploits, lies and conspiracies….We expect Abbas to refuse adamantly participation in peace talks or negotiations for the sake of talks….Above all, we expect the Palestinian leadership to have a Plan-B….The lamentable fact is that the PA doesn’t possess such a plan, which really makes every honest person seethe with anger at that leadership.”

Regardless of the merits of the participation in the peace talks, for some it has become clear that it is now time to properly asses the prospects for a two-state solution.

In an exchange on the Bitter Lemons website, Yossi Alpher asserts: “A comprehensive solution is not feasible…. in terms of the number of years devoted to trying to make it work, the two-state solution is still young. Yet that does not mean it is necessarily still feasible. Between settlement spread on the one hand and, on the other, repeated Palestinian insistence on totally unacceptable formulae for the right of return and the holy places, growing numbers of Israelis, Arabs and others are already pronouncing the two-state solution unachievable. Moreover, unless the current Palestinian reconciliation talks surprise us by succeeding in reuniting the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, the best we might conceivably be looking at is, in effect, a three-state solution.”

Presenting a Palestinian response to Alpher’s argument, Ghassan Khatib also suggests that there is “nothing to stop [the two-state solution] from disappearing…. With the passing of time, discussion over the permanence of the two-state solution is increasing among Palestinians and, to a lesser extent, Israelis and others involved. Although the official line of both the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority is that the two-state solution is the path of peace, a lot of changes are introducing serious question marks about its prospects….Joined together, public opinion and the reality on the ground are creating conditions that preclude the two-state possibility. And, there is no reason to believe that these will be reversed in the foreseeable future.”

However, others suggest that the current negotiating environment is too stale and requires some prodding from the masses. The Khaleej Times editorial juxtaposes the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate against the events of the Arab Spring: “From the inset of Arab Spring to the winter of discontent in the Middle East, much has changed for good….But what surprises the political intelligentsia is the fact that Palestine has been silent all these months, and not a major stone-throwing event was reported from Gaza to the West Bank…. The stalled peace talks should get a kick-start, and the major powers share a liability to see that happen. The Palestinians, however, should lead from the front by directing the give and take across the table through their presence and power out there on the streets.”

Many observers, however, now agree with The Daily Star’s Ibrahim Sharqieh, who states: “Palestine is nearly here” and everyone should learn to “deal with it…. Ultimately, for the Palestinians, U.N. recognition is a strategic option, regardless of how long the process may take to achieve. The Palestinians realize that though their state may not be recognized soon, the U.S. will eventually have to face the same reality that other governments have faced in the past after unsuccessfully blocking UN recognition of independent states….With the Palestinians set to take ‘new measures’ after Jan. 26, the U.S. must begin realizing that it is making a mistake in bowing to the pressure of the pro-Israel lobby by blocking Palestinian membership.”

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Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: Comments and feedback are welcome at

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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