US Secretary of State John Kerry meets Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on June 28, 2013. (Reuters/Jacquelyn Martin)
Syria is enmeshed in civil war (though there’s renewed hope for the Geneva peace conference), Egypt is engaged in violent political strife, and Iraq is blowing up. So, is this the time for talks on the Israel-Palestine conflict? I’d say yes, and I’m willing to suspend disbelief for the moment.
The talks start tonight and continue through Tuesday, then move to the Middle East. Yasser Abed Rabbo, a top Palestinian official, says that the talks “will begin, in principle, on the issues of borders and security.” That’s a lot better than starting with the dead-end issue of Israel settlements, for instance, which—although critical in an end-agreement—is less important than the issue of what border will separate Israel and Palestine and how both sides can be assured of security. And Abed Rabbo properly raises the fact that so far, at least, the United States has excluded the Palestinians from the security-related dimensions of an accord:
“This is a big shortcoming in the Israeli and the American behavior because they are not discussing their bilateral security, they are discussing a central and a fundamental issue of ours and it concerns our future as a whole.”
It’s not nothing that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has agreed to release about 100 Palestinian prisoners held for up to two decades or more. That was a Palestinian precondition for re-entering the talks, and it might have given Netanyahu an easy way out of them, if he wanted one. His agreeing to this condition has created a mini-crisis in Israel, with ultra-hawks and some members of Netanyahu’s own Likud Party strongly opposing the release. Here’s what Netanyahu said on television: