As peace talks were set to resume Monday evening in Washington at a gala post-Ramadan-fast dinner hosted by US Secretary of State John Kerry, long-time Middle East analysts praised the first result of a marathon six months of US shuttle diplomacy, but were skeptical as to what could ultimately be achieved.
“I’m humbled,” said Jonathan Schanzer, vice president for research at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a former terrorism finance analyst at the U.S. Department of the Treasury and research fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. ”I did not believe Kerry would get this far. If he’s gotten this far, what’s to say he can’t push it further? If he’s gotten this far, we shouldn’t discount the possibility of further progress.”
Schanzer does, however, remain unconvinced that these negotiations will prove fruitful, and part of his doubtful approach is the preparedness of those most essential to reaching a deal.
“Neither one of these leaders was prepared for this moment,” he says. “[Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin] Netanyahu has spent the last five years trying to build a consensus for an intervention in Iran and [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud] Abbas has spent the last eight years building towards an international consensus against Israel. I think neither man expected Kerry to get this far. It may force both men to make compromises, on the other hand they weren’t looking for this moment.”
Other analysts agreed that this first step may have been the easiest.
“This is an important beginning, but we should have no illusions here,” said Dr. Aaron David Miller, who served as an adviser to Republican and Democratic secretaries of state on Arab-Israeli negotiations from 1978 to 2003. Miller said that the whole process is dependent on the US maintaining its “very active [role] but neither side is anywhere near a fundamental breakthrough. But without the American role, without John Kerry, there would be no peace process, full stop.”
He added: “On borders and security, we have one issue, and recognizing Israel as the nation for the Jewish people, as the other, which has been all but unimaginable until now. On borders and security, it’s possible we could see an agreement, but we’re months away from it.”
Schanzer believes that, no matter the outcome, the Palestinian infrastructure lacks the necessary components to succeed as an independent state in its current manifestation.
“This isn’t to say they haven’t suffered long enough, or that there isn’t a national movement yearning for a Palestinian state,” he says, “but I think that the institutions have become very brittle over the last ten years or so. They’re perhaps the least prepared than they have been in years.”
For peace to emerge, and for hostilities to subside, “both sides have to understand the needs of the other, in the right environment, to hit the ground moving in the right direction,” Miller said.