The last two days has seen the fastest restart and re-stop to the Middle East Peace Process since it started in 1993. For a period of 36 hours, the world was expecting the process to be jump started by what the Obama Administration termed “proximity talks”. These were touted as indirect talks, brokered by a US middleman, that could possibly get Israel and the Palestinians cozied up to each other just enough to talk about something involving a state. Mahmoud Abbas, under terrible US pressure, was forced to agree to talking, even though his official term as Palestinian Authority chairman officially ran out in February and he is no longer an actual elected leader.
With the Arab League okaying the arrangement, the proximity talks were about to begin, until Vice President Joe Biden arrived, and within hours, the Israel interior ministry announced that 1,600 new Jewish mezuzah marked Made in Israel homes would be built in a post 1967 Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem. The Palestinians are very against this sort of thing because as far as they’re concerned, the Jewish neighborhood in question is actually a future part of their future state. The Arab League was immediately resummoned for an emergency meeting where they retracted their support for the proximity talks and, with their hands folded and pouting, basically said, “We’re not talking to you anymore, Israel.”
Biden was so infuriated by the careless timing of the building announcement that he came to his scheduled dinner with the Netanyahus an hour and a half late, and the meeting was said to be “very harsh”. Biden, who expected to kick off the talks and begin a new chapter in the peace process, just found himself back where he started.
Word has been spreading that the primary purpose of the proximity talks was to calm down the area in order to organize a mission against Iran, which both sides saw and understood. Since, strangely, both Israel and the Palestinians have a shared interest in preventing Iran’s nuclearization, you’d think that maybe, on the one hand, Netanyahu would be cognizant enough to prevent his staff from making any US-inflammatory building declarations while the VP was still in town, and on the other, that the Palestinians would at least pretend to talk in order to calm the ground for a plan against the Iranian regime.
Another question being asked by the political pundits is whether Netanyahu let this word slip on purpose in order to please the right wing of his coalition. With internal Likud elections slated for April 28th (see previous post) and Netanyahu in serious danger of losing control of the local branches of his party, he may be trying to make a right turn, or else lose his party and possibly his coalition when it takes a hard right turn in April.