Foreign Policy Blogs

Extending the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Talks



A notable poll of Palestinians was published a month ago that did not receive much attention. The poll, conducted by the Palestinian Policy and Survey Research Center (PSR) in Ramallah, found that a majority of Palestinians support extending the peace talks with Israel past the April 29th deadline if Israel partially halts settlement construction (51 percent support) or releases more Palestinian prisoners (65 percent support).

The findings are in stark contrast to polls published before the current round of talks began, which found that most Palestinians would only agree to negotiations if Israel halted all settlement construction completely.

It is widely understood that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas walks a fine line with the Palestinian public, which elected him to a four-year term over nine years ago. Besides questions surrounding his legitimacy, large segments of the Palestinian population are suspicious that he is too accommodating to the Israelis in negotiations. In my last article published on this site, I argued that Abbas is reluctant to sign on to any sort of final peace agreement because he fears its parameters would be too hard for the Palestinian public to swallow. Now he has a mandate to postpone such a decision while simultaneously pleasing the Americans and Israelis by remaining in the talks.

The findings of the poll bode well for the Israelis too. Netanyahu wants to extend the talks but is surely very reluctant to freeze settlement construction completely. And the fact that the survey shows that any prisoners being released – not specific prisoners – would suffice for the Palestinians is also good news because this issue contributed to Netanyahu’s delaying of the last scheduled release of prisoners (which in turn contributed to the current crisis in the talks). It is also in Netanyahu’s interest that Abbas’ constituents accept the moves the Palestinian president makes so that the situation in the West Bank remains relatively calm. Now he can rest easy on all of these counts.

Aaron David Miller just wrote an insightful article for Foreign Policy in which he remarked that with regards to the peace process, both the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships are more interested in the “process” than the “peace.” He argues that the process allows the leaders to avoid making tough decisions, all while receiving things from their mediator (the Americans).

In this instance the Americans — specifically Kerry — must be happy as well. There is a formula that prevents his peace process from falling apart — for now. And indeed, Miller devotes considerable space in his article to Kerry’s sheer will of seeing these talks through. Yet Miller argues that such an everlasting peace process “may only be delaying a day of reckoning.” Perhaps we will find out after the next round of talks is over.




Justin Scott Finkelstein

Justin Finkelstein recently received a Master's degree from New York University in Near Eastern Studies. He has spent most of his academic career and thereafter studying the Arab-Israeli conflict. His Master's thesis explored and analyzed the competing histories of the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem (1947-1949) and the potential for its solution.

He is currently a Research Associate at the Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI) in Philadelphia. He has traveled to both Israel and Morocco and has attended the Middlebury Arabic School program.

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