U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Gen. John Allen presented the American plan to address Israel's security concerns during Kerry's ninth visit to the region last weekend. Israeli officials said that while the document was comprehensive, it lacked certain crucial elements integral to Israel's defense. The Palestinian reaction, on the other hand, was considered to be more or less rejection.
After landing in Israel on Thursday, Kerry was determined to work toward achieving a framework agreement by April. Unfortunately, it's difficult to isolate signs of progress, and it seems that the main difficulty for both sides -- beyond the basic principles -- stems from two sources. First, a total lack of faith between governments and especially civilian populations and societies. Second, both governments lack the legitimacy needed to make difficult choices. The element of distrust has been widely discussed. There is no basis for confidence between the negotiators or the leadership. The distance is not just physical, but psychological, political and, no less important, emotional.
Yet, even more important than confidence is the issue of legitimacy, and the Palestinians' situation is worse than the Israelis'. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition is showing its first signs of weakness. While Netanyahu has the option of altering the coalition makeup, doing so would stir political unrest within his party. The national referendum that would result from any breakthrough in the peace process -- let alone a final-status agreement -- would probably force Netanyahu to call for early elections.
The Palestinian picture is more obscure and complex. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is not considered a legitimate authority by either the Palestinian public or even some in his own Fatah party. Criticism against him has grown sharper, and he has responded in kind. A Palestinian-Canadian businessman was recently arrested for insulting the PA president, and Fatah Revolutionary Council member Sufian Abu Zaida was shot at for criticizing what he perceived to be an undemocratic regime and because he was suspected of aiding Mohammed Dahlan, one of Abbas' harshest critics who regularly points to the powerlessness and imminent collapse of the Palestinian Authority.
In addition, Fatah's militant wing, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade, has been radicalizing. The rift between Fatah and the Gaza-ruling Hamas has deepened. Palestinians are frustrated with the failures and rampant corruption of the Palestinian Authority, which are part and parcel of their dismal economic and political outlook.
Given the circumstances, Abbas is unable to make significant decisions or concessions, even if he so desired. Abbas seems to understands the bind he is in, which is probably why he has fostered, both implicitly and explicitly, an ethos of Palestinian rejectionism, which relies on incitement against Israel, delegitimizing the Jewish state on an international stage and instilling opposition to recognition of a Jewish state anywhere in Palestinian children.
In many respects, the Palestinian strategy has not changed. The leadership has continued work toward unilateral moves that would force a final status agreement on Israel through the international community, without the Palestinians having to pay the necessary price -- to conclude the conflict and settle its demands.
The American determination -- which is totally removed from reality and ignores the two fundamental problems, a lack of confidence and legitimacy -- is going to be the main source of failure in the peace process. Processes working from the bottom up seem to be what's necessary.
To build confidence and legitimacy, the U.S. and Europe should actively assist in developing a Palestinian state. This will win over the hearts of Palestinians while focusing on ending incitement.