Flurry of Israeli Palestinian phone calls doesn’t spell peace – 8 takes
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Flurry of Israeli Palestinian phone calls doesn’t spell peace – 8 takes

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Jordan King’s Abdullah made it almost sound as if another Israeli-Palestinian peace talks could be in the offing, when he spoke passionately about it Sunday with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria.

“We have to get people back to the table,” Abdullah said. Turns out he doesn’t need a table.

This month Abdullah has met separately with all the central parties that could be involved in such negotiations; Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and US President Joe Biden.

But those haven’t been the only conversations. Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Public Security Minister Omer Bar Lev and President Issac Herzog all called Abbas with holiday wishes for Eid last week.

Abbas also spoke with President Reuven Rivlin before he left office and with Herzog when he entered it earlier this month.

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Then there are the wider regional conversations. Bennett has also spoken with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and United Arab Emirates Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed al-Nahyan. Foreign Minister Yair Lapid visited Jordan and finalized details of a major water deal. He also flew to the UAE, the first Israeli foreign minister to do and inaugurated the first ever embassy there. The UAE opened its first embassy in Tel Aviv.

All of this has taken place in the last six weeks, since the new government headed by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Lapid was sworn into office.

But those who could almost imagine white doves of peace fluttering in the breeze should note that concurrent to the tidal wave of good will, PA Olympic Committee chairman Jibril Rajoub encouraged Olympic athletes in Tokyo to boycott events with Israelis.

The PA is still in pursuit of war crimes suits against Israelis at the International Criminal Court. On Monday, PA Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh called on the United Nations Security Council to sanction Israel.

Here are eight reasons why the sudden flurry of activity is unlikely to be a harbinger of good news for those who hope for a resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

1. No Gaza ceasefire


The threat of renewed Gaza hostilities and Jerusalem tensions means that any peace efforts can immediately be derailed. Efforts for a permanent ceasefire in the aftermath of the 11-day Gaza war in May have faltered and even attempts for an understanding to ensure calm on the southern border have not been successful.
As a mark of the tensions, the Gaza fishing zone has never been fully restored to the 15 nautical limit set before the war. On Sunday, Palestinians launched incendiary balloons against southern Israel. In response, the Gaza fishing zone was reduced from 12 nautical miles to six and Israel hit Hamas targets in an aerial raid. Forget about peace, Israel is still very much on the verge of war.

2. US, Israel don’t believe time is right for peace talks

The United States and Israel both believe that the time is not right to actively pursue a peace plan for a two-state resolution and have not put forward a plan to achieve that goal. US President Joe Biden has been clear on this score and his administration has spoken instead of preserving the option for peace. The Israeli government is split on the topic, with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid supporting an eventual two-state resolution to the conflict. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has in the past spoken against the creation of a Palestinian State.

3. No agreed upon peace broker

The Palestinian Authority doesn’t want the United States to continue its traditional role as the broker of peace talks with Israel, even though it has restored ties with the Biden administration severed under former President President Donald Trump’s tenure. The PA prefers to see such talks administered by the Quartet, which is composed of the United Nations, the European Union, the United States and Russia. Should peace talks be advanced, Israel wants the US to be the main broker for such talks.

4. No stable leadership on either side

The absence of solid leadership on both the Palestinian and Israeli sides has been one of the main stumbling blocks to any Israeli-Palestinian peace process for the last three years.

Abbas’ poor health and advanced age of 85 means that many consider his time in office likely to end in the near future. The PA canceled its parliamentary leadership elections set for this spring and summer and have not rescheduled them, so there is no process by which Abbas would be replaced.

Bennett’s government was sworn in early last month and given the deep policy divides between its Right and Left flanks, pundits have speculated that it is unlikely to last. Its largest test of endurance comes soon, in November when it has to pass a budget. Failure to do so would automatically collapse the government.

Those who imagine that a peace process is possible are likely to wait until after the budget vote in November before embarking on one. That ‘s particularly true given that most of September would be lost to the Jewish holidays.

5. Israeli-Palestinian relations frozen at the top

Formal Israeli-Palestinian negotiations might have been frozen since 2014, but from the street level to the official level, communication happens on daily basis, particularly in the security arena.

But ties are completely severed at the top and that has not changed with this new government. Neither Bennett nor Lapid have spoken with their Palestinian counterparts, not even to exchange holiday wishes.

Israel overtures, even economic ones, to the PA have been difficult. The PA rejected an Israeli plan, designed by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu but executed by Bennett, by which it would receive an early batch of one million Pfizer vaccines. It claimed the vaccines were due to expire and no longer viable and the inoculations were shipped instead to South Korea.

The next Bennett economic gesture was done indirectly through the Hashemite Kingdom, with an agreement to increase Jordan’s export level to Palestinians in the West Bank from $160 million to $700 million annually. It’s a move that will help both economies.

But to date, Israel has not offered another major economic initiative to help rescue the PA’s flagging economy.

6. Abraham Accords were already in play

Some of the activity is a direct result of the Abraham Accords brokered by Trump, under whose rubric Israel normalized ties with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan. Activity seen in the last weeks is a natural extension of the diplomatic moves needed to cement these ties, based on actions already taken by the former government led by Netanyahu.

7. Flurry of calls coincidental

The sudden flurry of calls and conversations are more coincidental than indicative and stem from a confluence of events dictated more by diplomatic decorum than strategy.

A new government’s entry into office is often followed by a slew of calls from heads of state and diplomatic counterparts, as occurred when Bennett was sworn in last month. In Jordan’s case in particular, these introductory conversations also included a deal to almost double Israel’s annual sale of water to the Hashemite Kingdom.

Last week’s Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha served as another reason for a second round of calls, this time by Israeli officials.  One can expect yet a third round in September, when Jews celebrate their new year at the Rosh Hashanah holiday.

The number of calls also increased this summer because Reuven Rivlin ended his term as Israel’s President and was replaced by Issac Herzog, which again necessities more diplomatic conversations.

The Netanyahu government was made mostly of right-wing politicians who had no pattern of communication with the PA, such that any conversation was an event.

Bennett’s government has left-wing politicians who never severed their ties with the PA. Such talks will likely continue, a move that will strengthen communication on the ground, but will not have immediate larger policy implications.

8. Each call is an opportunity

The sheer volume of calls, however, can also create opportunity for new connections. Each conversation can set the stage to deepen or unfreeze ties, thereby presenting new opportunities that could ultimately lead to a peace process.

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