In the early days of the Gaza war that took the lives of some 2,100 Palestinians and seventy-two Israelis, a number of officials in Washington, Ramallah, and Jerusalem began to speak of renewing Israeli–Palestinian negotiations mediated by the United States. As the fighting dragged on, this talk intensified, again showing that the “peace process” gains greatest urgency from the threat of Israeli–Palestinian violence.
There is little reason to believe that renewed talks would succeed. The obstacles that caused the failure of the negotiations led by Secretary of State John Kerry have not disappeared. Many of them have grown larger. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his political program of nonviolence and negotiation have been weakened by Hamas’s strategy in Gaza, which impressed many Palestinians, although the costs were enormous. Hamas sent thousands of rockets into Israel, killing seven civilians, while Israeli air strikes and artillery killed hundreds of children, devastated large parts of Gaza, and left tens of thousands of people homeless. Reconstruction will cost many billions and take years.
Still, Hamas demonstrated that its militancy and its willingness to endure a ferocious Israeli attack could achieve more in weeks than Abbas’s talks have achieved in years. During the Gaza war, Israel did not announce a single new settlement in the West Bank. Although Israel did not agree to some of Hamas’s most important requests—for example, the opening of a seaport and the release of recently arrested prisoners—it showed eagerness to negotiate with the Palestinians and willingness to make significant concessions, including the easing of some border crossings, extending fishing rights, and facilitating the supply of construction materials.
Palestinians in the West Bank and Jerusalem, who had been relatively quiescent in the years preceding the Gaza war, put new pressure on Israel through nightly protests and clashes that led to the largest number of arrests in Jerusalem since the second intifada. Israeli commentators questioned old assumptions about the sustainability of the status quo. The war brought a surge in international support for the Palestinians, unusually heavy American pressure on Israel to stop bombing civilians, and significant rifts in Israel’s right-wing coalition. The Ramallah leadership under Abbas seemed less relevant than ever, while Hamas’s popularity rose.
Before the war, Abbas’s price for restarting talks had been too high for the Israeli government. He wanted a freeze in settlement construction and the release of the last remaining prisoners arrested before the 1993 Oslo accords, including fourteen Palestinian citizens of Israel. Today, after losing ground to Hamas, Abbas can ill afford to abandon these demands.
The positions of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, too, have hardened. Though in recent years he appears to have conceded that the increasing population of Palestinians necessitates partitioning the territory of mandatory Palestine, Netanyahu has not fully accepted the principle of Palestinian sovereignty. During the first days of the Gaza war, he said that “there cannot be a situation, under any…
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A longer version of this piece appears at Matter.