Members of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, will be sworn in on Tuesday. Later in the week the Palestinian Authority is scheduled formally to join the International Criminal Court. Meanwhile, the Obama administration says it is reevaluating its relationship with Israel. It is a moment when the prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace seem even more remote than usual.
“There is simply no trust, no confidence between these two parties. The leaderships don’t like each other. They don’t trust each other. They don’t believe that the other side really wants to negotiate a reasonable peace, but they have very different conceptions of what a peace should include,” said Rami Khouri a scholar at the American University of Beirut and a columnist for Beirut’s Daily Star newspaper.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is currently working to put together a new coalition government following the country’s March 17 parliamentary election. Netanyahu’s Likud Party emerged from the poll with 30 of the Knesset’s 120 seats, putting it well ahead of its nearest rival, the Zionist Union Alliance which won only 24 seats. The result was a stronger-than-expected showing for Likud, reinforced by the fact that the election broadly shifted the entire parliament to the right. In the final days before the vote Netanyahu pledged that no independent Palestinian State would emerge during his premiership. On election day itself he recorded a get-out-the-vote video urging his supporters to turn out because Arab-Israelis were heading to the polls in “droves.” In the days immediately after the election he sought to play down his remarks about a two-state solution and apologized to Arab-Israelis, but the reaction in the international community has been harsh.
“There’s huge reluctance on the Palestinian side to actually take Netanyahu seriously and if he has a right-wing government that’s going to be even more difficult,” Khouri said.
Khouri, interviewed from Beirut, appeared Sunday night as part of Al Jazeera America’s regular segment “The Week Ahead.” Also appearing on the segment with Al Jazeera’s Thomas Drayton were Alon Ben-Meir, a professor of international relations at New York University and Fadi Elsalameen, a Senior Fellow at the American Security Project, who joined the discussion from Washington DC.
All three of the guests struck a pessimistic tone when contemplating the state of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
“I do not believe that Netanyahu has a vision for where Israel will be ten years down the line,” Ben-Meir said, “and that is a concern for many, many Israelis.”
Elsalameen added: “Clearly what we’ll see in the coming months, or coming years, will be maintaining the status quo, managing the current occupation… but really nothing serious on a level that would lead to the creation of a Palestinian State.” He went on to note, however, that the Palestinians, too, have work to do, pointing out that no date has been set for the Palestinian Authority’s long-overdue presidential election and that the Palestinians lack “unified leadership.”
Khouri expressed a similar sentiment. “The Arabs as a whole, the Arab countries, have not done anything significant or meaningful or credible to try to push the peace process forward,” he said.
All three guests agreed that something must change sooner or later. “I do not think the current situation is sustainable at all,” Ben-Meir said.
Khouri echoed that sentiment. “They’re really at a standstill right now, and what we’ve learned throughout the last 64 or 65 years of this conflict is that when you get a stalemate and things come to a standstill they don’t stay like that for very long. Five years, six years, seven years and then something happens: a war, massive unilateral action by either side, external intervention to try to move the process forward. So we do have a stalemate, but we shouldn’t expect it to last a long time.”