Shortest peace talks ever?

I may be skeptical about the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks that began in Washington last week, but at least I’m not in the Israeli government. Avigdor Lieberman, however, is, and it looks like the foreign minister — who lives in a West Bank settlement — is out to sabotage the negotiations. Speaking at a gathering of ...

JASON REED/AFP/Getty Images

I may be skeptical about the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks that began in Washington last week, but at least I'm not in the Israeli government. Avigdor Lieberman, however, is, and it looks like the foreign minister -- who lives in a West Bank settlement -- is out to sabotage the negotiations. Speaking at a gathering of his far-right Yisraeli Beiteinu party Sunday, Lieberman reportedly said that a complete, final peace deal would not be possible -- "not next year and not for the next generation."

He also said that Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas "will not sign an agreement with Israel," but that he wouldn't take up arms, either. "The only practical solution," Lieberman said, "is a long-term interim agreement, on which we can debate. Our proposal is: No to unilateral concessions, no to continuing the settlement freeze, yes to serious negotiations and mutual gestures of good faith."

I may be skeptical about the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks that began in Washington last week, but at least I’m not in the Israeli government. Avigdor Lieberman, however, is, and it looks like the foreign minister — who lives in a West Bank settlement — is out to sabotage the negotiations. Speaking at a gathering of his far-right Yisraeli Beiteinu party Sunday, Lieberman reportedly said that a complete, final peace deal would not be possible — “not next year and not for the next generation.”

He also said that Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas “will not sign an agreement with Israel,” but that he wouldn’t take up arms, either. “The only practical solution,” Lieberman said, “is a long-term interim agreement, on which we can debate. Our proposal is: No to unilateral concessions, no to continuing the settlement freeze, yes to serious negotiations and mutual gestures of good faith.”

Haaretz also channels Israeli cabinet ministers’ complaints that Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, isn’t sharing details of his discussions with Abbas (many of them would love to be able to leak controversial bits to the press and blow up the talks) or his plan to deal with the impending expiration of his 10-month settlement freeze (a majority wants to start building again). Meanwhile, senior Abbas aides are already feuding in the press and spreading strategic leaks of their own.

It will take an unimaginable change of heart, not to mention skillful coalition management, by Netanyahu, to make these negotiations succeed — and that’s assuming he really wants to do it and isn’t just trying to relieve American pressure. (Israeli commentator Aluf Benn predicts that Bibi’s about to pull a “Nixon to China” moment, but I’m not persuaded by clichés.)

Already, it looks to me like both sides expect the talks to fail and are maneuvering to hang that failure on the other guy. Abbas has said repeatedly and unequivocally that he’ll walk out if building resumes, while the Israeli government remains committed — at least publicly — to letting the freeze expire. According to the Jerusalem Post, 57 projects are ready to drop on Sept. 27, the day after the moratorium ends (indeed, some projects have already begun).

Carlos Stenger calls forth a parade of horribles to expect if and when the talks fall apart: an uptick in terrorist attacks, the possible dissolution of the Palestinian Authority, a return to full Israeli control of the West Bank, growing diplomatic isolation for Israel. So what’s Plan B?

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