Why are peace talks off campaign agenda?

February 26, 2015 12:35

There could be few better illustrations of current relations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority than the decision by the Israeli Electric Corporation (IEC) to cut off the power from the West Bank cities of Jenin and Nablus for 45 minutes on Monday afternoon.

The warning black-out was done after the PA failed to pay a significant portion of its electricity bills for the past two years. The debt has grown to around £330m.

Meanwhile, the West Bank is simmering. The latest wave of terror attacks seems to have abated but a stabbing near Jerusalem City Hall on Sunday evening was a reminder that any calm is temporary.

The Palestinians have embarked on an international campaign to pressure Israel, which includes trying to indict Israeli officials at the ICC, while Israel announced this week that, for a third month running, it would not pass on the tax duties it charges on behalf of the PA.

Israeli diplomats are warning that the Europeans are planning sanctions directed at the settlements in a few months. And yet next to none of this is featuring in the election campaign. Likud has accused Tzipi Livni, the co-chair of Zionist Camp (the joint list of Labour and Ms Livni's Hatnuah) of planning to divide Jerusalem and allow Hamas into Israel's capital. Labour has hit back, blaming Prime Minister Netanyahu for the loss of civilians' safety, but this is low-level sniping, not an issue on which this election hinges.

The Netanyahu family's finances, the difficulty of buying a first home and the damage caused by Mr Netanyahu to Israel-US relations as a result of his planned address to Congress next week are all on the agenda. The future of talks with the Palestinians is not.

There are a host of reasons for this but the bottom line is that the majority of Israelis do not feel there is a way forward with the PA. For now, the differences between Labour's leader Isaac Herzog and the Prime Minister on this issue seem mainly a matter of tone.

Mr Herzog deplores the PA for acting unilaterally, calls for a return to negotiations without conditions and says he would allow building within the settlement blocs. He could be Mr Netanyahu's foreign minister with those positions; many in the political establishment believe that is actually a plausible outcome of the elections, once the divisive rhetoric is turned down and the votes are counted.

Meanwhile, neither the Prime Minister nor his challengers have anything to gain electorally from bashing their heads against a wall.

Israeli voters are tired of the conflict but after the failures of the Oslo accords, the grand plans of Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert and the creation of a Hamas state in Gaza following the disengagement, no leader has any credibility to propose a solution.

February 26, 2015 12:35

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