There's an old saying in the Middle East that there are three levels of dead: dead, dead and buried, dead and buried and not coming back. Right now the peace talks are dead and the guys with the shovels, Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas, can't decide whether to keep digging or resume talking.
Each leader thought he was clever enough to kill the talks and put the blame on the other, but blame is about the only thing they have in common.
John Kerry still thinks he can resurrect the talks but even if he does, it's not clear what that will mean. Neither Netanyahu nor Abbas ever made a convincing case that he seriously was ready, willing or able to make peace. Over the past nine months there is scant evidence they ever got beyond talking about talking about peace. Nine months ago Kerry thought he could produce a peace treaty by now, but when that turned out to be Mission Impossible he went for an outline for peace talks, but even that proved elusive.
Right now all either side is talking about is what they can do to make the other one’s life miserable. And they seem to be doing a pretty good job of that.
They may actually decide to resume the Kerry round of talks, but not because they’ve suddenly decided they want peace with each other, but they do want peace with Washington, which pours billions into their economies.
They also want the political benefits friendship with the United States brings them. Both sides want and need each other’s security cooperation, starting with protection from Iran’s friends and proxies.
Netanyahu wants the Obama administration to keep the pressure on Iran in the nuclear talks, protect Israel from international isolation and prevent another Intifada.
The winners in the breakdown are the hardliners and rejectionists on both sides. Interestingly, Israeli and Palestinian public opinion supports a two-state solution, but each leader is shackled with splintered and hardline ruling circles he can't control. Conversely, there is no strong grassroots public pressure on either side to make a deal; for now, the status quo is acceptable.
Don’t be surprised if an exasperated Kerry tells both sides what one of his predecessors, James A. Baker III, told them in 1990: We can't want it more than you do. When you're serious about peace, call us.
Even if these talks resume, the prospects for finding life in them is remote. For now they may be dead, but in the Middle East that's not final.
What will it take to get the two sides to bring real life to the peace table and make a serious effort? New elections and new leaders, not new bribes.
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