Friday, February 3, 2012

The Amman Talks: Another Exercise in Futile Diplomacy

The Amman Talks: Another Exercise in Futile Diplomacy
by Prof. Efraim Inbar
BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 162, February 1, 2012

The recent Israeli-Palestinian "pre-negotiations" in 
Amman mark another ineffectual endeavor to bridge the wide gap between the 
two sides. The Palestinians were quick to accuse the Israelis of bad faith, while 
still refusing to accept Israel as a Jewish state. Furthermore, as Hamas becomes 
emboldened by the  "Islamic Winter," Israeli-Palestinian  reconciliation seems
Few should be surprised by the failure of the Amman talks, which constituted an 
additional attempt by the international Quartet to restart negotiations between Israel 
and the Palestinian Authority (PA). These meetings  were  intended to break the 
impasse in the peace process, after the Palestinians decided to relinquish the option 
of negotiations with Israel and to adopt instead a unilateral approach to attain their 
This unilateralism, reflected in the PA’s failed attempt to gain recognition as a state 
at the United Nations, was not well received in the United States and most of Europe. 
In order to overcome the international repercussions of such a move, the Palestinians
heeded the advice of the Quartet and returned reluctantly to a “pre-negotiation” table 
in Amman, still committed to “go it alone” if their territorial expectations were not 
fulfilled by Israel.
As expected, Israel's offers did not satisfy Palestinian desires. Over the years, the 
Palestinians have rejected generous offers by  past Prime Ministers  Ehud Barak 
(2000) and Ehud Olmert (2008). Obviously, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu 
could not do better. Not many details emerged from the Amman talks, but it seems 
that the Palestinian demand for Jerusalem  is  a serious obstacle for progress in the 
peace talks. Similarly, Israel’s insistence on holding on to the settlement blocs and on 
having a defensible border along the Jordan River does not sit well with Palestinian 
visions. The Palestinians hurried to accuse Israel of bad faith and intransigence in an 
attempt to justify their decision to halt negotiations.Above all, the Palestinians refuse to accept Israel as a Jewish state – a core issue in
the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict. While Israel, under the leadership of Prime 
Minister  Menachem Begin, recognized  the  "legitimate rights of the Palestinian 
people" in 1978, the Palestinians still have not reciprocated. Denying the legitimate 
right of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel only reinforces the majority Israeli 
consensus that the Palestinians are not a serious partner for peacemaking. 
Indeed, the gap in positions between Israelis and Palestinians is extremely large and 
cannot be bridged overnight. It is totally unrealistic to expect an agreement on final 
status issues in the near future. The best that can be achieved is interim agreements, 
tacit or formal, that do not entail grave security risks for Israel. Even the Obama 
administration learned the hard way that conflict resolution should be replaced with 
conflict management.  That is the only  strategy  that  has a chance to minimize 
suffering on both sides and achieve a modicum of stability in a stormy Middle East.
To a great extent, the Amman talks can be seen as an international effort to maintain 
a facade of negotiations within the framework of a conflict management strategy. 
Their failure will inevitably bring about another bout of diplomatic activism in 
pursuit of another forum for an Israeli-Palestinian exchange of views that will 
similarly fail. Such failures hardly discourage professional diplomats who make an 
honorable living by trying to bring peace.   
Regional developments, namely the uprisings in the Arab world, have also 
contributed to the lack of progress in Israeli-Palestinian relations. The Palestinians 
are quite vexed that the Arab masses  have  hardly mentioned the Palestinian issue, 
showing that it is not a main cause of instability in the Middle East. This has reduced 
the sense of urgency for “solving” the Palestinian problem, as other problems have 
attracted much more attention. Moreover, the success of Islamist parties in premature 
elections in Tunisia and Egypt, as well as the growing influence of Islamist groups in 
other parts of the Arab world, does not bode well for the peace process.  While 
domestic concerns may force such groups toward seeming moderation, Israel is still 
generally viewed as an illegitimate political entity that must eventually be eradicated. 
This is also the position of Hamas. 
Unfortunately, the “Islamic Winter” has emboldened Hamas, enhancing its position 
in Palestinian society and politics. Indeed,  in May 2011  the PA, out of weakness, 
signed a reconciliation accord with Hamas that remains to be actualized. In fact, the 
fragmentation and/or Islamization of states that characterizes the “Arab Spring” was 
first seen in Hamas' struggle against the PA. After winning the 2006 elections in 
Gaza, Hamas took over the Gaza Strip by force in 2007. As long as Hamas plays a 
central role in Palestinian affairs, no real Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation is possible. 
The turmoil in the Arab world has also hardened Israeli positions in negotiations with 
the Palestinians. Suddenly, Israelis realize that a pillar of their national security, the 
peace treaty with Egypt, is in jeopardy, indicating the fragility of signed international 
documents. Political circumstances may change suddenly in the Middle East, making 
defensible borders an imperative. It is a pity that the Palestinians have not yet 
internalized this change and do not calibrate their aspirations to the realities on the 
ground. Unfortunately, realism is hardly part of the maximalist Palestinian political 
culture.The Amman talks, another exercise in futile diplomacy, cannot be isolated from the 
surrounding reality. They had no chance of success. On the bright side, they were 
hosted by Jordan. An enhanced Jordanian role is to be welcomed because Jordan is a 
much more responsible international actor than the Palestinians, who must still prove 
that they can build a state. Unquestionably, the Quartet will try again to make peace. 
We should wish them luck.

Efraim Inbar is  a  professor of  political  studies and  director of the Begin-Sadat
(BESA) Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University. This article was initially
published by on January 30, 2012.