After a long silence, peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine will take place this week in an effort to find a solution to the long-felt conflict between the two states.
Robert Danin, a former deputy to ex- British Prime Minister Tony Blair who is now working with the Council on Foreign Relations, said during a conference call Monday that President Barack Obama has been in talks with the leaders for more than 18 months.
“(Israel and Palestine) have essentially joined this process because they don’t want to be blamed for its failure,” Danin said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will head to Washington to meet with Obama individually Wednesday, followed by a dinner at the White House.
The dinner will include Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Tony Blair, who is serving as the Middle East envoy for the commonly known quartet of the United States, Russia, the United Nations and the European Union.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will then begin negotiations with the parties the following day at the State Department. Obama has been criticized for not conducting the negotiations, but Danin said Obama distancing himself from early-stage peace talks allows the president room to influence the conversation if it comes to a stalemate.
“The president has put his own prestige on the line, both by at the very beginning of the administration identifying this issue as a priority, by continuing to engage by hosting the two leaders at the United Nations last September and by now calling this summit,” Danin said. “He is keeping some capital in reserve for later on.”
Obama has been ridiculed for engaging so closely with the conflict, especially after last summer when the president met with both leaders in many one-on-one conversations and phone calls. Danin said there is not an agreed-upon agenda for the talk.
One of the main projected issues for the agenda is the looming Sept. 26 expiration date of Israel’s 10-month moratorium on construction in the West Bank. Nethanyahu has said that he will not renew the moratorium. However, President Abbas has assured all parties Palestine would leave negotiations if this proves false.
“The most serious challenge for the negotiators and for the administration is the question of how the settlement moratorium will be handled,” Danin said. “One of the reasons that the administration wanted the negotiations to start now is that it will be easier to have the settlement question addressed within the context of a negotiation process than outside of one.”
Danin said it’s possible that a passive agreement could be reached where no official announcement is made regarding the moratorium, but each party would reach an understanding in order to continue discussions. The White House has announced a one-year end goal for the negotiations.