JERUSALEM — Following the signing of the Iran nuclear pact, many here wonder whether the Obama administration will try one more time to find a way forward on the most elusive deal in the Middle East: the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
It goes without saying that any attempt would face long odds. Since U.S.-led talks collapsed last year after nine months of negotiation, positions on both sides have hardened, creating near-perfect conditions for stalemate.
The Palestinians have decided not to press for new negotiations but instead to pursue “diplomatic warfare,” seeking to embarrass, isolate and prosecute Israel in world forums such as the International Criminal Court, where the Palestinians want Israeli leaders tried for war crimes.
The Palestinians are also taking a hard look at the French bid to pass a resolution at the U.N. Security Council that would outline parameters and timelines to end the 48-year Israeli military occupation of the West Bank. The Palestinians want the Israelis out of the West Bank by 2017.
On the Israeli side, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new coalition government is composed of ministers who either are vocal opponents of the creation of a Palestinian nation or who insist, as the premier does, that the time is not right.
“I look at the Israelis, and I see no partner for peace,” said lead Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, who called the current Israeli government “the most hostile to two states” he has known.
Erekat added, “If the Palestinian president were Mother Teresa and our prime minister Thomas Jefferson, this government would still say no to us.”
Israel’s interior minister, Silvan Shalom, tasked with leading any future negotiations, said in an interview that Israel is willing to talk and accused the Palestinians of being the obstacle.
“It takes two to tango. The fact is, they are not willing to begin negotiations now,” he said.
Shalom said the Palestinians have signaled that they won’t talk without “preconditions.”
Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah said in an interview that the Palestinians would insist on a framework for talks.
“We have been negotiating for 20 years. We achieved nothing, right? Now we want new terms of reference for these negotiations,” Hamdallah said.
“I’m sure we cannot go for negotiations when settlement activities are going on. You know, this will kill the two-state solution,” he said, referring to the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem, on lands the Palestinians want for a future state.
Hamdallah said such conditions are necessary, in part, because Netanyahu vowed on the eve of his reelection in March that there would be no Palestinian state on his watch; he later amended his remarks, saying that now is not the time for such a state.
But Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon recently suggested that the time may never be right.
“I don’t see a stable agreement during my lifetime, and I intend to live a bit longer,” Yaalon said at a security conference last month. The defense minister is 65; life expectancy for an Israeli male today is around 80 years.
Dan Meridor, a former Israeli deputy prime minister and a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that “there is an almost irreconcilable contradiction between what the world community — including the United States and Europe — wants and what the majority in this government thinks and wants to happen regarding a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
Some critics complain that the Netanyahu government is sending mixed messages.
When Netanyahu met with European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini in May, he pledged his commitment to a two-state solution.
Around the same time, Israel’s top diplomat, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely, told her counterparts — and her country’s ambassadors — that Israelis have a historic right to all the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea and that instead of apologizing, they will assert this to the world.
Hotovely not only opposes a two-state solution but also has advocated for annexing the entire West Bank and offering Israeli citizenship to Palestinians. She says her “Greater Israel” would remain democratic and Jewish by encouraging a mass migration of Jews — an “ingathering” of millions — from around the world.
Hotovely said in an interview that she will follow Netanyahu’s lead. But she added that she and other young Israeli politicians grew up in a different time and that the idea of two states has dimmed for them.
“I was born in 1978, the year when the peace agreement was signed between Egyptian leader Anwar Sadat and our leader, Menachem Begin,” she said. “I was brought up on a peace vision. I am the generation that grew up under the Oslo Accords and then the Camp David process.
“Throughout the years, Israel took all those steps towards peace. Every time, there was a left-wing Israeli leader willing to shake the hands of the Palestinian leader, but instead they started an intifada They started hurting Israelis by using real terror, with buses exploding in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv,” Hotovely said.
“We gave up land and historic assets, and what we got in return was more and more terror,” she continued. “So we should rethink that they will never accept us here, and we need to be more careful.”