A new round of “peace process theater” begins on September 2, and this time it comes with a deadline: Both sides have agreed to negotiate for one year and no longer.
The one-year time limit is viewed as crucial because the Palestinians are leery of being drawn into an open-ended negotiation with Israel. Mr. Netanyahu has long said he is open to talks, but the Palestinians have been resistant, seeking assurances from the United States about the terms and conditions.
Israel has eschewed any pre-conditions to negotiations, officials said, including an extension of the government’s 10-month partial moratorium on settlement construction in the West Bank, which is set to expire on Sept. 26. The Obama administration has pushed to restart direct talks so that the two sides would be at the negotiating table when that date arrives.
Coincidentally, according to today’s front-page administration-fed NYT story, one year is also the timeframe U.S. officials are now claiming Iran has before it achieves nuclear breakout capacity. The idea of this two-step media offensive, presumably, is to put pressure on Israel not to do anything “rash” before the new round of peace talks plays out, especially with news set to break tomorrow that the Bushehr reactor is ready to go. That’s consistent with the White House’s thinking all along: They’ve always believed that settling the Palestinian issue first will make it easier to deal with Iranian nukes by denying the mullahs an opportunity to exploit the great Muslim grievance. If a peace deal is struck, then theoretically the goodwill it’ll generate towards Israel and America among Sunni nations will neutralize the Muslim solidarity that Iran wants to exploit when the confrontation over its nuke program finally comes. I’m not sure how that’ll work in practice, though, since Hamas will play no role in the peace negotiations and has no interest in ceding Gaza to its enemies in the Palestinian Authority in the event that a peace deal is hashed out. On the contrary, with Iran’s full support, they’ll inevitably accuse Abbas of having sold out the Palestinian nation in order to inflame the same sense of Muslim grievance and solidarity that the peace talks are meant to mute. In fact, if O shocks the world and the talks start making serious progress, I assume Iran and Hamas (and Hezbollah, of course) will simply precipitate some sort of crisis in order to derail them. Which is to say, how can you expect any deal to hold as long as Tehran and its proxies still have fangs?
My guess is that, if talks start to advance, there’ll be some sort of effort behind the scenes to bribe Iran into not making trouble. What that will look like, I have no idea — maybe relaxing sanctions? — but the thinking will probably evolve from “We need this peace deal to give us cover in confronting Iran on its nukes” to “We can now afford to let Iran have its nukes because, thanks to this peace deal, tensions in the region have been permanently reduced.” What could go wrong?