While the unexpectedly strong showing of political newcomer Yair Lapid’s centrist Yesh Atid party in Israel’s Parliamentary elections on Tuesday has raised hopes that peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians will be revived, peace in the Holy Land will remain as elusive as ever.
On the Israeli side, Benjamin Netanyahu will almost certainly remain Israel’s Prime Minister, and his Likud party, which remains the largest party in the government, continues to be dominated by hardliners who oppose the creation of a viable Palestinian state. Likewise, most of the smaller religious parties, which punch above their weight in the Israeli parliamentary system, are also adamantly opposed to Palestinian national self-determination. Meanwhile, Israel’s pattern of settlement construction in the Occupied Territories, and particularly in and around East Jerusalem, has created “facts on the ground” which makes disentangling the two populations infeasible on both political and practical grounds.
The political situation on the Palestinian side is similarly infertile ground for the growth of peace. Unlike the situation in 2000, Palestinian politics has bifurcated into a HAMAS-controlled Gaza Strip and a Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority in the West Bank whose legitimacy has been severely diminished over time due to its past failures to achieve peace, its corruption, and factionalism within its own ranks. While unity talks between HAMAS and Fatah have yielded some progress, with some reports suggesting that HAMAS would be willing to participate in negotiations towards a comprehensive peace with Israel, such participation is unlikely to produce positions anymore acceptable to Israel than Arafat’s were in 2000.
And herein lay the crux of the matter. The political circumstances in 2013 are much less fortuitous than they were in 2000, when negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians revealed just how far apart the two sides were on the key issues.
On the Israeli side, there is no constituency which would be willing to concede East Jerusalem in a peace deal—a longstanding Palestinian position that is unlikely to change. Lapid has so far refused to even state publicly whether or not he would accept a freeze in settlement building, which is a key Palestinian demand just to restart talks.
On the Palestinian side, it was only a little more than a month ago that Khaled Meshaal publicly stated that HAMAS would never recognize Israel. Needless to say, that position doesn’t exactly sit well with Israelis nor is it likely to move the parties closer to peace. But even the most dovish Palestinian is unlikely to give up claims to East Jerusalem, or to simply abandon the “right of return” of Palestinian exiles. No Palestinian is going to accept a political solution in which their state is non-contiguous, in which Israel retains exclusive rights to Palestinian airspace, as well as control of its water resources and its borders, which is the offer that Ehud Barak made to Arafat in 2000.
Considering that most Israelis and many outside analysts believe that the 2000 offer was the most generous offer the Israelis are likely to give and how far away this offer was, and remains, for Palestinians seeking to achieve national self-determination, one can only conclude that the more inhospitable political climate which exists today will not lead to a viable peace.