A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors


The peace talks failed because....

The many efforts to bring Israelis and Palestinians to negotiate their differences have always ended with the U.S. finding the Palesinians responsible for their failure. This time it looks like it is the Israelis who are being found wanting.

The talks have almost certainly ended, and someone on the U.S. negotiating team (perhaps its lead, Martin Indyk) has given an interview to YNET, an Israeli 24/7 news outlet. In the interview, the American places the major responsibility for failure on Israel's continuing approval of building permits for new settlements, some of which were issued at critical moments in the negotiations.

With John Kerry some weeks back using the word "apartheid" to characterize Israel's future and then back pedaling. With this interview and the views expressed (about which there will probably be some back pedaling), perhaps the iron grip of Netanyahu on U.S. support is beginning to slip.

The YNET Interview.  So far no mention, that I've seen, in the U.S. press.

About the Author

Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, writes frequently in these pages and blogs at dotCommonweal.



Commenting Guidelines

  • All

Does it really matter?   Reality (demographics) will happen no matter what and Israeli policies will eventually be seen by the world as just a version of apartheid.

IPAC eventually will have to deal with this as will the elected officials of the US government. 

Next step - growing world participation in a boycott of Israel.

B deH: Does what really matter? Antecedent of it?

If you mean does the failure of the talks matter. Yes, they do. The longer Israel resists a resolution, either two states or a unitary state with equal citizenship, the graver the consequences will be, first, for Israel, then for the Palestinians, and then for the pot-stirring that is the Middle East at the moment.

AIPAC will not deal with this unless Israel does. If Obama, Kerry et al. are serious about forcing the Israelis to get serious (and that's a big IF), maybe something will give. If not! I continue to hope that those couragous U.S. Jews who have stepped out and spoken up will continue to press these matters. If they do, and there are enough of them, then we weasely Catholics can offer our support,

Agree but my (what does it matter) is my pessimism that the current Israeli approach will change.  Suggest that AIPAC needs to change before Israel and that Congress/Administration can take steps now to begin to act objectively and begin the process of disconnecting from our 50 years of Israeli bias and allegiance.

It would be a courageous step for this administration to act as Eisenhower did in 1956.

I wonder if AIPAC is starting to loseits support among American Jews.  This article by Mark Silk at RNS says that a Pew report found that 63% of American Jews support a two-state solution, and an American Jewish organization called J Street  "is leading a vigorous campaign on behalf of a two-state solution."   J Street has been refused membership in  the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, but I wonder if the old organizations have had their day.  It seems that some of the young people are speaking out.

J Street deserves a place at the table | Spiritual Politics


Ms. Steinfels -- I'd like to hear your thoughts about:  1) BDS (I agree with deHaas on it as path to future); 2) whethe Obama should and will  have the courage to simply delay aid payments for longer and longer periods; 3) why Catholics are so "weasely (I sense change, as also with US Jews). 

Mr. Kane, Happy to oblige: 

1. BDS: Boycott, Divest, Sanctions. Boycotting goods from the West Bank settlements is to the point because these goods and/or services support their economies: technology, fruits and vegtables, cosmetics, etc. Of course, many settlers work in Israel and would not necessarily be directly affected. Some Palestinians also work for these settlement enterprises; it therefore lends weight when they support the boycott.  Divestment from companies, Israeli and others, who participate in settlement construction and destruction of Palestinian homes and villages are also appropriate; hence asking U.S. universities, colleges, etc. to divest from them, e.g., Caterpillar, is not only appropriate but might serve to preserve Palesinian homes and villages. The Dutch have disinvested from funds that invest in West Bank settlements. Sanctions: I am not sure what, if anything is being proposed along these lines. I suspect if it is on the order of financial and banking sanctions, they would be hard, if not impossible to implement. I think BDS should be focused on the settlements and not on Israel, though I understand that it may become more and more difficult to distinguish between them. The goal should be moral suasion and pressure, not the economic destruction of Israel.

2. Yes, Obama could and should delay aid, loans, grants etc. But since Israel doesn't really need them, the force of this would not be economic, but moral and political. Those in the Jewish community who finance settlement building should not be allowed to deduct those "contributions" from their taxes.

3. Why are Catholics so weasly? For reasons that the historians and sociologists among us might be able to excavate, U.S. Catholics seem to be in lock-step with AIPAC (which is not the whole Jewish community). As you can see from earlier posts on the subject at dotCommonweal, some Catholics treat criticism of Israel and the Netanyahu government as the third rail of religion. Some may have come from families that expressed anti-Semitic views and they see that as shameful. Some have come to a deep appreciations for our Catholic roots in Judaism. Some have taken on a vicarious responsibility for the Holocaust and the behvior of European Catholic Church, especially Germany's. They also don't want to be labelled anti-Semites.

I agree with you that views are shifting among Jews as among Catholics and Episcopalians, Presbyterians and Methodists, etc., but I think it is difficult for many Christians to step ahead of our Jewish friends and neighbors on the question of the West Bank settlements and Israel's support for them.

What do you think?

Ms. Steinfels - not often that my ideas agree with the likes of someone such as Bacevich:

Key passage:

The third option, by far the most difficult, is to peel away the advantages to which the stronger party has become accustomed. Reducing the disparity of power will level the playing field. Rendering the status quo less tenable might create incentives for meeting the other side halfway rather than issuing diktats or scoldings.

What makes this option so difficult is that the stronger party will not voluntarily relinquish its advantages. Just as obliging Palestinians to accept a made-in-Israel formula for a two-state solution would entail considerable nudging so too will obliging Israel to negotiate with the Palestinians as equals.

When it comes to nudging, the United States has several tools at hand. It can curb the flow of US military hardware and technology to Israel. It can cease to indulge double standards regarding weapons of mass destruction. It can withhold diplomatic cover for Israeli actions inconsistent with US interests. None of these guarantee success. All entail risk. But together they might encourage Israeli leaders to rethink the consequences of continued inaction.

Although it may not be able to mandate peace, the United States can at least encourage the stronger partner to want it.

Yes, much that Bacevich says is possible, is it likely? ISTM that the great obstacle is the confidence (over-confidence?) of Israel itself, and, at the moment, Netanyahu, that it/he can withstand all outside pressures to negotiate a deal with the Palestinians. It may be a mistaken sense of confidence, but there it is. Is it possible that Israel has the capacity to allow itself to become a pariah state without fearing the consequences (consider Iran and North Korea).

Obama will play an important role in how this evolves. The problem: will any of his potential successors have the guts and the stamina to continue whatever policy he can put in place? 

So, the talks failed because of Israel's unyielding policy on settlements? Did I miss the announcement that the Palestinians vowed to renounce its policy of never recognizing the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state in return for the destruction of the settlements?

John - all your statement does is lock everything into a black and white, tit for tat meme.  The issue is both complex and nuanced and you, again, fall into the very trap that Bacevich highlights - Israel has all the power in this dilemma and currently uses it in every way.

Facts - why should they recognize when Israel does exactly what it wants, when it wants.  The Palestinians have very little leverage - thus, recognition is just about their only *weak* leverage point.  You fail to mention any type of need to address compensation or the reality that Palestinians have a right to return (in some way, fashion, recognition, compensation - and yet, for most Israelis, this is a non-starter.)   And then, the non-dialogue starts all over again with accusations, recriminations, etc., etc, etc.  To what point?


The supposed "right to exist as a Jewish state" means that Arabs and Christians who live there will perpetually be ranked as second-class citizens, because they are non-Jews in a Jewish state. It doesn't seem to have occurred to you that some of these people have families who have been living there for generations and whose identity is never going to be Jewish. Why should they agree to define themselves out of the state in which they live? This is a manifest injustice of the most basic sort.

Suppose someone were to come along and want to define America as having the right to exist as a "white state" and you were black. How about if they wanted to define America as a Protestant state and you are Catholic. How would that sound to you? Like you and your family are always going to be the outsiders, never truly accepted as full participants in that state as it is defined.


For all the reasons that Rita Ferrone enumerates the "Jewish State" demand was inevitably a deal breaker and that is no doubt why Netanyahu proposed it in the middle of the "peace" talks.

One other note - would suggest that again we may have another wrinkle:

- there is a difference between a *Jewish* state and Israel as a secular country

- thus, in some debates, a Jewish state is seen with the same negativity as say a Muslim nation that declared *sharia law* with the result that any outsider is suspect, condemned, or threatened - much less being a second class citizen.

The common point is that for decades the Arab nations would not *recognize* formally the existence of the state of Israel...and this is the last remaining chess piece that the Palestinian Authority has to play.

Add new comment

You may login with your assigned e-mail address.
The password field is case sensitive.

Or log in with...

Add new comment