Last Wednesday the Obama administration recognised publicly that attempts to bribe the Israeli government into agreeing a 90-day settlement freeze to resume talks with Palestinians had failed.
So, one week on where do we go from here?
Should we follow Thomas Friedman’s advice in the New York Times last Saturday and just wash our hands of the Middle East “peace process” and let the Israelis and Palestinians stew in their own juices for a while?
Should Europe step out from under America’s wings and chart its own course by imposing sanctions on Israel to break the deadlock on settlements? That was the advice given to Catherine Ashton, the EU’s High Representative on Foreign Affairs, by a formidable grouping of former EU leaders including her predecessors Javier Solana and Chris Patten.
Common to both of these recommendations is a sense of deep despair, frustration, even anger that recent efforts have amounted to nothing. Blame who you want, but there is no escaping the reality – the hope that a deal could be struck by August 2011 has well and truly hit the buffers.
So where do go from here?
Hilary Clinton’s speech on the subject last Friday to the Brooking Institute provides a short-term response. She used the occasion to shake up Netanyahu’s coalition – meeting with the Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni ahead of her big speech would have hurt Bibi.
By impressing on both sides the need to “grapple with the core issues of the conflict on borders and security; settlements, water and refugees; and on Jerusalem itself,” Clinton probably hopes to force Netanyahu to put his cards on the table, something he has so far refused to do. Only time will tell whether this works.
On the other side of the Atlantic, the EU appears willing to give the US time to rescue the situation. No change there then – it’s nice to see that the Lisbon Treaty has had such an impact on the EU’s foreign policy.
The EU Council’s Conclusions did include, however, reference to the 12 month timeframe which is due to expire in August. Does this suggest that the EU is putting down a marker that should a settlement not be reached on time that it is willing to consider other options? Again, only time will tell.
I’m not sure what you make of all of this but none of it gives me much encouragement for 2011.
The reality remains much as it has always been namely that it is down to the two conflicting parties to sort this out.
Clinton was spot on when she said in her speech that peace in the Middle East depends on both sides to the conflict making the necessary compromises for peace, but that no side seems willing to do so.
It is worth quoting the relevant passage in full:
In the end, no matter how much the United States and other nations around the region around the world want to see a resolution to this conflict, only the parties themselves will be able to achieve it. … The parties themselves have to want it. …. Unfortunately, as we have learned, the parties in this conflict have often not been ready to take the necessary steps….. Part of this is recognising that Israeli and Palestinian leaders each have their own domestic considerations that neither side can afford to ignore. It takes two sides to agree a deal and two sides to implement a deal. Both need credibility with their own people to pull it off. So this is also about how the leaders prepare their own people for compromise.
Even now after twenty years of negotiating it is far from clear that either side actually wants peace. Each side might have wanted a settlement at different times, but rarely have they wanted it at the same time. Neither side has taken sufficient steps to prepare their constituencies for the compromises that peace demands.
With the window on a two state solution fast closing (cf facts on the ground and demographic shifts), neither side has quite woken up to the reality of what a one state solution might look like.
It doesn’t look pretty, but come August next year they might just have to face the reality of the situation that they have both unwittingly created.