For peace talks, a 10th month of pregnancy?

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas gestures as he gives a speech during a meeting with the Palestine Liberation Organization's Central Council in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on April 26, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/Abbas Momani)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas gestures as he gives a speech during a meeting with the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Central Council in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on April 26, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/Abbas Momani)

Negotiations ended this week without a deal, or an intifada, which leaves a situation ripe for secret contacts between the sides

(SOURCE)  Nine months of talks between the Palestinians and Israel ended Tuesday night with a whimper. No peace agreement or emotional ceremonies, no explosions or intifadas. The talks simply ended.

On the Palestinian side, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas gave a special address on Palestinian television, in which he laid out his conditions for a renewal of the talks: the release of the fourth batch of veteran security prisoners; a complete settlement freeze; and negotiations for three months, in which the borders of two states — Israel and Palestine — will be established.

 Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not give a similar talk.

The official end of the negotiations was overshadowed in Israel by reports from the sentencing proceedings for ex-prime minister Ehud Olmert, and a soccer match between Real Madrid and Bayern Munich. Though on the field the game was one-sided (in Madrid’s favor, for anyone who missed it), Ronaldo and company still looked infinitely more interesting than another report about the fruitless peace effort.

A senior American official, who was asked four months ago why the US chose a nine-month window for the talks, replied only half-jokingly that, like pregnancy, the negotiations might bear a peace agreement.

Taking the analogy forward, then, this pregnancy ended in an abortion.

But one still cannot reach conclusions that are too far reaching, at least not at this stage. Both sides share an interest in maintaining the quiet, in continuing to sit down for talks even If they don’t bring about a dramatic resolution, in order to maintain the appearance of contact between the sides.

The same American official was asked during the conversation, “What happens after nine months?” What is your Plan B?

He declined to answer, but it seemed as if he’d been asked the question dozens of times before. It is likely that the US administration has a contingency plan for the day after. But it’s hard to say what that plan is.

Maybe the US will present both sides with the fabled “Obama outlines” and see which side will dare turn down the American president.

Or maybe Washington will let both sides stew in their own juices: Let Israel deal alone with the international criticism and maybe even with an escalation on the ground; and cut aid to the Palestinians.

Abbas, himself, dealt with this question when he met with Israeli journalists 10 days ago. This was before the reconciliation deal between Fatah and Hamas was announced, and the talks hadn’t yet blown up.

“What will happen the day after April 29?” he was asked. Abbas said that nothing out of the ordinary would occur. He even hinted that talks would go on through unofficial channels. He also emphasized that security cooperation between the sides would continue.

It is possible that this will be all the opening that is needed for secret talks.

If the security coordination is handled through secret and semi-secret channels, if Central Command chief Nitzan Alon and Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Yoav Mordechai can visit Ramallah openly, is it not possible that representatives of the two sides would meet to discuss what needs to be done in order to reach a breakthrough in negotiations?

The candidates for such talks already exist: Yitzhak Molcho, the prime minister’s tireless emissary, and Majid Faraj, head of the Palestinian general intelligence service. The two aren’t inclined to talk much to the press, to say the least, refraining from interviews and declarations and understanding the importance of the political chain of command.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, with Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, left, and President Shimon Peres at an event on Wednesday, April 30, 2014. photo credit: (David Vaaknini/POOL/Flash 90)

But it doesn’t depend on them. In the end, Netanyahu and Abbas know that there will be a price for a political breakthrough and neither seems eager to pay it. Netanyahu is not keen to break apart his coalition, and Abbas doesn’t believe in Netanyahu.

After Fatah and Hamas signed their unity deal late last month, Abbas attempted to calm jittery Israelis via a speech to the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Central Council last Saturday.

“This is a government with me at the head,” said Abbas about the technocratic government that is scheduled to take power within five weeks. “I recognize Israel and it will recognize Israel. I reject violence and terror and so will it, and recognize the signed agreements and their legitimacy, and the government will as well.”

But then he discovered that in Israel in 2014, no one wants to hear or listen to him. A statement went out from Netanyahu’s office after the talk, claiming that “Abbas verified the killing of the peace process.” In the Prime Minister’s Office, it seems, they don’t let facts, or in this case warnings, confuse them.

The next day, the PA president published a statement saying that the Holocaust is the gravest crime in human history. And again Netanyahu responded with a fitting Zionist response — in joining up with Hamas, Abbas had reconciled with Holocaust deniers.

But despite Israeli and American worries, the Palestinian unity agreement represents for Abbas an important victory against Hamas, albeit a temporary one, and he won’t give it up quickly. Hamas basically agreed to accept all of Abbas’s demands, at least on the big issues.