Martin S. Indyk, a former two-time US ambassador to Israel, now a vice president and director in foreign policy for the Brookings Institution (a liberal policy think tank), is somewhat bullish on the prospects for positive diplomatic developments between Israel and the Palestinians. His July 12th “Postcard from Jerusalem and Ramallah” (reflecting his visit last month) begins as follows:
Ramallah looks like a boomtown. The West Bank economy continues to grow at a robust 11 percent, fuelling a Palestinian desire for normal life after a decade of intifadah-inspired suffering. There is no appetite for a return to violence among West Bank Palestinians; a sentiment that appears to be shared by their counterparts in Gaza, where the easing of Israel’s closure holds hope for a new beginning.
Strangely, the Gaza flotilla crisis seems to have bolstered the sense among the West Bank leadership that it is time to try to strike the deal with Israel. Abu Mazen, buoyed by his meetings at the White House and with American Jewish leaders, appears to be ready to move into direct negotiations with Bibi Netanyahu. He is flexible about the necessary fig leaf to make this possible – he is just looking for a credible explanation he can give to the Arab League, which mandated his participation in the current “proximity talks.” If Israel were to permit Palestinian police to resume control of “B Area” villages (where the Israel Defense Forces retain overall security control), and declare that there would no longer be IDF incursions into “A Area” cities (where the Palestinian Security Forces are supposed to have full responsibility) that would probably do it. He intends to continue a campaign of public diplomacy designed to convince Israelis and their American Jewish supporters that they have a Palestinian partner for peacemaking. He is even ready to address the Knesset.
In Israel, the public mood is in flux. While Prime Minister Netanyahu was preparing to depart for another meeting with President Obama in the White House, twenty thousand Israeli citizens were marching on his residence to demand that he negotiate the return of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit with Hamas. The price for that deal is well known: the release of 1,000 Palestinian prisoners including 425 Hamas terrorists some responsible for the worst attacks on Israeli civilians. The Israeli people seem to want their leader just to get on with it.
The Israeli public also knows the price for peace with the Palestinians: the relinquishing of all the West Bank, save the settlement blocs, shared sovereignty in Jerusalem, and a deal on Palestinian refugees that compensates them for their suffering but denies them the ability to return to Israel. Until now, Israelis have shown little interest in pressing their leaders to make that deal. They felt there was “no partner” on the Palestinian side, so there was no point. But that was before the advent of an American president who defined the U.S. national interest as requiring a settlement of the Palestinian problem. And that was before their government bungled the interception of a flotilla bearing aid for Gaza, triggering a wave of international condemnation.
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