Maybe Something is Different This Time
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
In reviewing the events which have transpired since the Kerry initiated Israeli-Palestinian talks were announced, there are some very curious signs and differences in the behavior of both sides. While nothing is necessarily as it appears on the outside in any negotiations, this is especially true historically in the Middle East. Something seems to be a bit different in these particular talks.
It seems as if everything has indeed been totally orchestrated and prepared at least through and including yesterday evening’s meeting in Jerusalem. First all the logistics are secret. No announcement of venue or time, no photos (except for one Press Office shot), no press opportunity, nor statements are permitted and these rules are not being violated—by either side. The agenda items are totally generalized.
Second, Kerry and the Palestinians knew there would be an Israeli decision on housing units in the settlements. The U.S. told Israel it would issue a rebuke as would the Palestinians, but, unlike on previous occasions, no threats to cease the negotiations. In return, Israel pushed through the prisoner release and there were neither excessive demonstrations nor public protests as to why certain prisoners were not included. The future timing of prisoner releases is probably also known to all and is linked to various phases of the progress in the negotiations. In other words everything is orchestrated and agreed to beforehand. There are no surprises here that will create a cause for a walk-out which was always the case in the past. This is a very big change.
Meeting two was a five hour session alone without the U.S. present and the next meeting is already set. Once again there is no discussion of any substance announced or made public. In all likelihood so far they probably have established a sequence in which to discuss the items and how the exchange of proposals would be processed. Modalities may have been discussed but not necessarily substance. There is also probably an agreement as to how to move through log-jams; how to move-on and return to issues; how to escape stalemates; who could be asked to resolve them; and how and when other parties will be informed concerning progress—if at all.
Despite these fine intentions these discussions still could come to naught. In addition, it remains unclear why Israel even needed to put itself over the barrel with the settlement issue and almost provoke a non-starting conference. There will undoubtedly be at least one moment when the Palestinians may well also provoke a challenge, but hopefully it too was anticipated and the result will be as innocuous as was the settlement provocation. So far at least, the atmospherics seem to holding and following the Kerry’s rules.