If Abbas drops demand for settlement freeze, will negotiations resume?


By leaving out his usual demand for a settlement freeze in a recent call for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas may have opened the door to renewed peace talks.

But even if he has removed the demand, talks are still unlikely in the near future due to upcoming Israeli and U.S. elections, and Israeli opposition to Palestinian recognition efforts at the U.N.

The Associated Press has reported that, should Palestine receive recognition as a U.N. non-member state in November, Abbas may be willing to negotiate with Israel even if Israel does not freeze settlement growth. For years, Abbas has demanded such a freeze as a precondition for peace talks.

U.N. recognition could obviate Abbas’s need for the freeze if it recognizes the West Bank as Palestinian territory.

Disagreement over a freeze has been cited as the primary obstacle to negotiations since they last ended — after restarting for a month in 2010. At that point, a 10-month settlement freeze had expired, and Abbas refused to continue to negotiate unless Israel extended the freeze. Since then, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called for negotiations without preconditions, while Abbas has maintained the freeze demand.

But if the Palestinian U.N. bid goes through successfully, and if Abbas uses Palestine’s U.N. status as a basis for negotiations, it seems unlikely that Netanyahu would agree to talk. Israel and the U.S. have fiercely opposed Palestinian U.N. recognition efforts since they began last year, maintaining that the conflict must be resolved by the parties themselves.

And as Israel is now in election season, with voting scheduled for late January, it is extremely unlikely that Netanyahu would risk alienating his right-wing base by pursuing talks — especially if he maintains his secure lead in the polls. If he does win another term, he could build a coalition similar to his current one, which has not pushed for talks since they collapsed two years ago.

If a center-left coalition replaces Netanyahu, negotiations and steps toward ending Israel’s occupation of the West Bank are more likely. But a new government would take office only in February or March, meaning that any talks will have to wait at least five months from now.

Upcoming elections in the U.S. also complicate the situation. If President Obama gets a new mandate, he may push for Israeli-Palestinian peace, as he did at the start of his presidency. The failure of that previous effort, however, may make a second-term Obama more cautious.

Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee, has sent mixed signals about restarting Israeli-Palestinian talks. In a recent speech at the Virginia Military Institute, Romney said he would “recommit America to the goal of a democratic, prosperous Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with the Jewish state of Israel.” But in a private talk to donors recorded by Mother Jones last month, Romney said that “the Palestinians have no interest whatsoever in establishing peace, and that the pathway to peace is almost unthinkable to accomplish.”

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