Silently, peace talks fade into the ether

John Kerry (Photo: AP)

John Kerry (Photo: AP)

The April 29 deadline for extending the talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority expired with little reaction this week as all sides, including the American mediators, seemed to be focusing on other problems.

Only two weeks ago, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was planning to push through a prisoner deal with the Palestinians that had the potential to wreck his coalition. He can now consolidate his position at home and concentrate on what to him is the paramount concern: Iran.

Meanwhile, it seems that the Palestinian Authority is not rushing to precipitate a diplomatic crisis despite previous threats. Although the PA has asked to join a long list of international organisations and conventions, none of these steps will change the situation on the ground.

What’s more, it is unlikely to take the more drastic step any time soon of seeking to join the International Criminal Court, which could precipitate an international legal challenge to Israel’s control of the West Bank. President Mahmoud Abbas’s priority now is to try to implement the Fatah-Hamas unity deal signed last week.

This is the third such deal signed in recent years. The last two fell through rapidly and, for this one to survive, the Palestinians will have to achieve a number of intricate balancing acts between their own factions, Israel and the international community.

The first stumbling-block will be the composition of the new interim Palestinian government.

Fatah officials are insisting it will be a technocratic cabinet that will recognise Israel and the agreements signed with it. But Hamas leaders say that their Prime Minister, Ismail Haniyeh, will continue to serve and, despite earlier reports to contrary, are adamant that the movement will never recognise Israel.

For now, after freezing all contacts with the PA aside from security co-operation, the Israeli government is sitting back and waiting to see what transpires on the Palestinian side.

The leaders of the two centrist parties in the coalition, Yesh Atid and Hatnuah, which threatened in the past to leave the government if no progress is achieved in the peace process, are sticking to the official line of blaming the Palestinians for the breakdown.

The right-wing component is rejoicing. Habayit Hayehudi leader Naftali Bennett, who only a few days ago was threatening to leave the coalition, said on Tuesday: “The age of Oslo is over. We are entering a more realistic period. There’s no perfect solution… we have to live to learn with this situation.”

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in Washington this week that “a pause is necessary” but promised that Mr Kerry did not regret his involvement in the talks and is poised to jump back in again when the time is right.

Meanwhile, Mr Kerry was forced to retract a warning that Israel runs the risk of becoming an “apartheid state” if a two-state solution is not reached.

The swiftness of the retraction proved that the Obama administration was interested in “freezing” the situation between Israel and the Palestinians. It does not want to rock the boat during a critical period in which it has to tend to escalating conflicts in Ukraine and Syria. In addition, the P5+1 talks with Iran are about to enter a critical phase.

Last updated: 11:47am, May 1 2014