Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Direct Israel-Palestinian Talks: An Important Detail

By Barry Rubin

There's an important detail worth noting regarding the renewal of direct talks. According to the U.S. State Department, Israel's extension of the freeze on building within West Bank Jewish settlements and across the pre-1967 borders in Jerusalem is an issue to be discussed at the negotiations. In other words, renewing the freeze is not a precondition.

This is an important U.S. step to Israel's advantage and should be noted as such. Of course, Israel will come under intensive pressure to renew the freeze--otherwise, the U.S. side will argue, the talks will collapse--but can bargain to get something in exchange for doing so. From a mediator's standpoint, though, this is one more likely crisis that could wreck the negotiations.

Israel's question will be: What will the Palestinian Authority give in exchange for a renewed freeze? The Palestinian Authority will respond: absolutely nothing. Most likely, the United States would then have to step in and give Israel some concession or guarantee. The Israeli government will say: OK, and one thing we want is that if in a year the talks go nowhere or if they collapse you will not demand we continue the freeze.

By the way, the conventional wisdom is that if the talks collapse there will be a lot more violence. Sooner or later, over the next five years or so, there will perhaps be another intifada. But in the shorter run, Palestinian militants and Hamas will be relieved if the talks break down. Violence would be more likely if--and this isn't going to happen--they appeared to be succeeding and Hamas along with Fatah radicals are eager to stop the process.

Finally, regarding the idea that Arab states are always obsessed with helping the Palestinians, the United Arab Emirates, which gave the PA $174 million last year has offered nothing in 2010 while Saudi aid has allen from $241 million to only $30.6 million. That's a cut of almost $400 million from the PA's main Arab contributors. Others give very little. The PA's economic boom on the West Bank is being funded by Western taxpayers. Here's an interesting take on the Palestinian economy.

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