Talking about talking about talking

I was initially optimistic when U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced in a press conference on Friday that Israel and the Palestinians would resume negotiations this week. While both sides voice skepticism, it is safe to say that we are approaching the first significant negotiations in five years. Then the doubt hit me.

Both sides reached an agreement for the “basis” of the resumption of talks. The preliminary talks that are supposed to happen this week will discuss further details of the talks. I don’t know about you, but the whole situation just seems like a bunch of talking about talking.

What’s the point? Are both sides overly cautious because they don’t want to tread on the other’s toes or is all the talking a strategy for buying more time? Let’s take a closer look at the situation.

If we consider Israel’s motives, regardless of what the Palestinians are thinking, we notice a potential hidden strategy. Prolonged talking about talking provides Israel with a cover for the expansion of settlements, rather than a meaningful redress for Palestinians.

Mentioning the release of Palestinian prisoners also sends off a red flare in my mind. It would appear that Israel is repeating former behavior by using people as bargaining chips, instead of addressing the heart of the matter: the occupation.

Here’s how I see the situation: there is an agreement to talk about talks without actually agreeing on what land is being talked about.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stands on a shaky ledge, approaching the situation as a reluctant and late supporter to the idea of Palestinian statehood. A national referendum on peace settlements allow him to brush the responsibility of leadership off onto the Israeli public. That way, if the majority of Israelis are in favor of giving back land, he can secretly rejoice that he didn’t have to take responsibility for the decision, which would have lost him his original supporters. If a referendum shows different results, he can rejoice because he’s provided another roadblock and more time to “talk.”

Senior members of Netanyahu’s coalition, such as Economics Minister Naftali Bennett, have already voiced their opinion on the matter. On his Facebook page, Bennett threatened the current coalition if negotiations are based off the 1967 armistice lines. A referendum would provide Netanyahu with a scapegoat if it is discovered that Israelis are actually ready to make amends. In that case, Bennett would potentially suck it up and do what little he can do to add his agenda to the situation. If not, then Israel is up again for a shift in leadership.

Netanyahu does have one ace in the hole – his opposition. Labor party head Shelly Yachimovich told Netanyahu she’d consider joining the coalition if necessary steps were made to advance peace talks. However, her potential support does not guarantee Netanyahu what he needs. Many young Likudniks are already shaking at the thought of giving back land.

If the political dynamics appear complex on the surface, it’s daunting to imagine how fraught the hidden power dynamics and strategies might be. And that’s just the Israeli side. We haven’t even considered the internal Palestinian politics.

But if talking about talking is necessary for real talking, then so be it. While I may be a bit cynical, at least Netanyahu is forced to confront the issue as his coalition appears shakier than ever. Good luck, Bibi. You’re going to need it.

About the Author
Sarah Sheafer is a student at the College of Charleston in South Carolina, studying political science and international studies with a focus in the Middle East.
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