Abbas: No, direct talks aren't about to begin again

Last week, Reuters got a leak that claimed Israel would agree to the pre-1967 border as a precondition to kick-start stalled negotiations in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denied immediately.  Over the weekend, Secretary of State John Kerry followed that up by declaring that both Israel and the Palestinian Authority had agreed to direct talks in Washington anyway.  This time, it was Mahmoud Abbas who told the media that he doesn’t know what Kerry is talking about:

The path to formal negotiations with Israel is still blocked despite a U.S. suggestion that the sides are close to returning to the table, a senior Palestinian official said in another sign of skepticism that peace talks will resume.

Nabil Abu Rdeneh, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said in a statement late Sunday that for actual peace talks to resume, Israel must first accept its pre-1967 war frontier as a baseline and halt settlement building, demands Israel’s leader has rejected in the past. The Palestinians seek a state in the lands Israel captured in 1967.

He said that Abbas agreed to send a delegate to Washington to continue lower-level preliminary talks with an Israeli counterpart about the terms for negotiations. The Washington talks are meant to “overcome the obstacles that still stand in the way of launching negotiations,” he said.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced this weekend that an agreement has been reached that establishes the basis for resuming peace talks that collapsed about five years ago.

When Kerry became Secretary of State, he did promise to bring a fresh diplomatic approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  Who knew that would be fantasy fiction?  On the surface, this appears to be something out of The Parent Trap — tricking Mom and Dad into meeting someplace so that they can really discover how much they missed each other.  All we need is Hayley Mills and some really bad songwriting.

Below the surface, it does appear that the two sides have sent some lower-level envoys to Washington try to overcome the public impasse that has been in place for the last several years.  Those kinds of efforts have been going on for years to no effect on that standoff, however. The Obama administration made that impasse worse by publicly calling on Israel to agree to the pre-1967 borders demand as a prerequisite to talks, which makes it all but impossible for Abbas to let Israel off that hook.  (Hamas didn’t even accept that as the baseline for talks anyway.)  The official Israeli position is that negotiations should take place without any preconditions except for the concept of a two-state solution and both sides publicly endorsing the right of the other state to exist.  That should have been the baseline for the US, too.

It’s going to take more than Hayley Mills singing Let’s Get Together (definitely not the Al Green version) to break this impasse.  If this clumsy attempt at public pressure is the best America has to offer, then we can take the next four years off from the Israeli-Palestinian talks — and maybe we should.