It's hard to say there was much enthusiasm in our region over the renewal of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians eight months ago. One person who was enthusiastic for the rest of us, though -- U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who envisioned how on April 29 (the date the talks were slated to end) the Israeli and Palestinians would fall into the other's arms.
Not to imply, God forbid, that there aren't those here -- Israelis and Palestinians -- who don't want to see the end of the conflict (a strategic interest), it's just that a moderate man (so they tell us) has been the leader of the Palestinian Authority since 2005 and he is unwilling and unable to sign a deal with us.
Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas' interaction with previous Israeli governments was supposed to have set off a warning bell for the American administration, which was supposed to lower its expectations. The Obama administration, however, following a series of international conflict management failures, was far more desiring of a deal than Abbas. Washington did not understand that the fruits it sought could not be picked in the Palestinian Authority. After three painful (and controversial) phases of releasing Palestinian prisoners by Israel, it is a bit difficult for Abbas to cast blame, this time as well, on Jerusalem. The big question is whether the Obama administration finally understands with whom it is dealing. It is entirely uncertain that it does.
In the meantime, the Palestinians have reverted to making threats: They are way more enchanted by the international arena than the three-way tango with the Israelis and Americans. They have gone back to their beloved formula of turning to the United Nations for recognition and to join 15 international treaties. This unilateral move is merely another nail in the coffin of the Oslo Accords. The path to a state does not go through the U.N., but through Jerusalem. Someone needs to remind Abbas of this.
It was obvious that the current negotiations, which were allotted nine months, would end in a miscarriage, rather than a birth. The idea to grant an extension to the talks is certainly logical. They say we must avoid creating a diplomatic vacuum between us and the Palestinians. However, after Israel released dozens of prisoners for nothing in return, it was asked to again pay a steep price (the release of 1,200 Palestinian prisoners, among them Marwan Barghouti, lift the Gaza embargo;, and provide a written commitment by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the 1967 borders, with east Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital). In other words, the prime minister was to offer another dowry without being at all certain it would result in a wedding. Justice Minister Tzipi Livni also struggled to extract the "conditions of amenability" that the Palestinians had exhibited with her in the past.
Abbas, through his conduct, succeeded in creating an atmosphere of apathy in the region. When the talks were renewed no one was excited, and this time too, as Abbas is sabotaging the talks, it appears nobody, even among his own people, is torn up about it. The last round of talks perhaps did not advance the prospect of peace, but it did erode even further what was left of the PA leader's credibility.
And here perhaps is Abbas' greatest failure. It is one thing that Israel finds it hard to see him as good partner. The problem is that despite the expected rise in his popularity in the coming days, the Palestinians also do not see him as a leader.