Israel and Palestine have agreed to resume peace talks, as a result of diplomatic efforts made by US Secretary of State John Kerry who visited the region this weekend. Concessions have been made, in order to lay the groundwork and prepare for talks. The key issue dividing the two sides is the 1967 borders of Israel; an issue that may render negotiations impossible.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who pointed out the importance of the talks’ resumption, said his country will not discuss the 1697 borders “which will endanger the future of the Jewish State”. For Netanyahu, the reason is “to prevent the creation of another Iranian-backed terrorist state within Israel’s borders, which could no less endanger us.” Israel’s position was made clear when Israel’s Yuval Steinitz, minister for intelligence, international relations and strategic affairs told the media that “there is no chance that we will agree to enter into negotiations that begin by defining our territorial borders and possible concessions, or a construction freeze.”
The position contrasts with that of the Palestinians. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas agreed to a resumption of talks but is currently facing criticisms from opponents for not obtaining the assurance that the question of the 1967 borders will be on the table. Wasel Abu Youssef, a senior member of the umbrella Palestine Liberation Organization, told Reuters on Friday after Kerry’s announcement that “efforts will continue to secure the achievement of Palestinian demands … Israel must recognize the 1967 borders.” Analysts explain that Abbas’s agreement to the resumption was due to the fact that Israel has made many concessions. The Israelis have agreed to free Palestinian prisoners detained in Israeli jails since 1993 according to the Oslo Accords – an interim deal that was intended to lead to an independent state of Palestine seek in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Israel considers the release of those prisoners as a great concession since this was one of the main, long-standing Palestinian demands. Abbas’s position may also be explained by what both parties are not saying through the media. An Israeli official was quoted last week by Reuters, saying that Israel agreed anyway “to a plan for peace talks based on pre-1967 borders and land swaps.”
Analysts also connect Abbas’s position to the pressure put on Israel. The fact that Palestine was accepted as a non-member observer state by the majority of United Nations members gave some insurance to Abbas who has in mind that the United Nations resolution demanding Israel to return to his 1967 borders and to completely withdraw from occupied territories. This is condition that the Palestinians insist upon, in exchange for recognizing the existence of Israel.
Abbas insurance is also explained by the European Union pressure on Israel with diplomatic and economic measures. US Secretary of State Kerry also made it clear that there are things that are not said through the media. “Any speculation or reports you may read in the media … are conjecture … because the people who know the facts are not talking about them,” he said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that these talks are “important not only to end the conflict with the Palestinians but also in light of the nuclear threat from Iran and the civil war in neighboring Syria.” At his side, Abbas will certainly bring to the table the question the 1967 borders. The important thing is just that the talks start.