Israel’s extremism is the reason

The hard-line and extreme political position of the Israeli government, born from its right-wing composition, is creating immense contradictions between what this Israeli government can "accept" (and stay together) and what the international community seeking to restart the political process between Palestinians and Israelis expects. Israel has been solving this contradiction through evasion, doing whatever it takes to avoid any negotiations or engagement on matters of substance, especially if they involve a third party.

During Washington’s efforts to restart the peace process led by US envoy George Mitchell, because Israel refused the US request that it halt the expansion of settlements in order to allow negotiations to move forward, Mitchell suggested indirect negotiations. These were called "proximity talks", wherein the parties were invited to submit proposals on security and borders.

Palestinians submitted their full proposals and positions on those topics, but Israel somehow got away with refraining from presenting anything. When direct talks were resumed in September 2010, four official high-level meetings were held. At these, Israeli officials also sat and listened, never presenting any positions or proposals or engagement in the ideas in any way.

This seems to be what is happening now. The Quartet is trying to prepare the ground for resuming negotiations, and because Israel refused to stop expanding settlements (part of Israel’s obligations under the Quartet-sponsored roadmap), Quartet representatives requested that the two asides present their positions on borders and security. Again, Palestinians presented positions based on their goal of ending Israel’s occupation and allowing for a two-state solution on the borders of 1967, with limited land swaps. Israel is refusing so far to present any position.

This repeated failure to bring Israel to substantive negotiations or meaningful engagement leads one to the conclusion that the actual obstacle to resuming meaningful peace talks of the kind that could move the parties to the peace they aspire to is the continued drift towards hard-line politics and extremism in Israeli society that is reflected in the Knesset and government.

A simple study of the changing composition of successive Israeli parliaments and governments after the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin explains the current failure of negotiations that had previously born fruit, as well as the failure of both the US and the Quartet to convince Israel to engage. This is fundamentally about the widening gap between the positions that might be produced by such coalitions and the minimal expectations of the international community, which is of course bound by international legality.

That’s why right now the efforts of the friends of Israel, including the United States and Europe, should focus on influencing Israel bilaterally, including by introducing elements of accountability into their relationships. The fact that Israel has been allowed to enjoy having its cake and eating it too–in other words, disregarding the expectations of its friends while continuing to enjoy the benefits of those friendships–has allowed these negative hard-line trends to continue.