View from the Hill: Israeli-Palestinian Talks Very Unlikely

The White House is saying “peace is possible,” but many in Congress aren’t so sure.

Israeli soldiers gather in an army deployment area near Israel's border with the Gaza Strip on July 10, 2014. Israeli warplanes kept up their deadly raids on Gaza but failed to prevent Palestinian militants from firing rockets across the border, despite mounting international appeals for a truce. AFP PHOTO/MENAHEM KAHANA (Photo credit should read MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images)
National Journal
Clara Ritger
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Clara Ritger
July 10, 2014, 3:35 p.m.

Many in Con­gress have little con­fid­ence that Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Net­an­yahu and Palestini­an Pres­id­ent Mah­moud Ab­bas will re­turn to the ne­go­ti­at­ing table any­time soon.

“There will be no peace pro­cess for a long time,” said Re­pub­lic­an Sen. John Mc­Cain of Ari­zona, “be­cause of Hamas be­ing part of the Palestini­an gov­ern­ment.”

Pess­im­ism is per­vas­ive among both Re­pub­lic­ans and Demo­crats.

“I’m skep­tic­al that you will see an en­dur­ing peace be­fore the Palestini­ans demon­strate a great­er abil­ity to gov­ern them­selves,” said Demo­crat­ic Rep. Steve Is­rael of New York. “Des­pite our ef­forts to as­sist them, they now de­cided to form a unity gov­ern­ment that is now fir­ing rock­ets upon in­no­cent ci­vil­ians in Is­rael.”

Re­pub­lic­an Rep. Tom Price of Geor­gia said he ex­pects noth­ing to hap­pen without the U.S. call­ing on Ab­bas to de­nounce Hamas and par­ti­cip­ate in the peace pro­cess. “This is what the world looks like when the U.S. re­fuses to lead,” he said.

Is­rael and Ga­za are un­der steady rock­et fire fol­low­ing the murders of three Is­raeli teens — in­clud­ing one with dual U.S.-Is­raeli cit­izen­ship — and the slay­ing of a Palestini­an teen in ap­par­ent re­tali­ation.

Is­rael has poin­ted the fin­ger at Hamas — which the U.S. con­siders a ter­ror­ist or­gan­iz­a­tion — but has been un­able to prove culp­ab­il­ity.

The U.S. has largely stayed out of the con­flict. In an op-ed pub­lished in the Is­raeli news­pa­per Haaretz, Pres­id­ent Obama wrote that “peace is pos­sible” and that the U.S. will as­sist in a two-state solu­tion when “the polit­ic­al will ex­ists to re­com­mit to ser­i­ous ne­go­ti­ations.”

Demo­crat­ic Rep. Adam Schiff of Cali­for­nia said in­clud­ing Hamas in the Palestini­an unity gov­ern­ment “may have been the last straw” for Is­rael.

“I’m not sure where things go from here,” Schiff said. “This is such a hor­rendous situ­ation, and I’m sure equally pain­ful for Is­rael­is and Palestini­ans — par­tic­u­larly how it star­ted with the deaths of these four teen­agers — and I think it’s go­ing to take a lot for the Is­rael­is and Palestini­ans to re­cov­er.”

State­ments from both Middle East lead­ers on Thursday were un­com­prom­ising. Net­an­yahu said that a cease-fire is “not even on the agenda,” while Ab­bas called Is­rael’s strikes in Ga­za “gen­o­cide.”

Demo­crat­ic Rep. Ted Deutch of Flor­ida vis­ited Is­rael last week to meet with the fam­il­ies of the Is­raeli teen­agers. He also spent time with Net­an­yahu.

“If Pres­id­ent Ab­bas is really com­mit­ted to peace, then Pres­id­ent Ab­bas should, rather than mak­ing out­rageous claims about Is­rael’s de­fens­ive ac­tions “¦ step up and be clear about what Hamas is do­ing and should make clear to the world that his gov­ern­ment is not sup­port­ive,” Deutch said.

“I’m sup­port­ive of a two-state solu­tion,” he ad­ded, “but when one of the parties is un­der con­stant at­tack from ter­ror­ists and that ter­ror­ist group is part of the Palestini­an gov­ern­ment that wants to en­gage in ne­go­ti­ations, we shouldn’t ex­pect Is­rael to want to start talk­ing about peace.”

Re­pub­lic­an Rep. Steve Stivers of Ohio said it’s un­likely either party will come to the table un­less the U.S. or an­oth­er ally en­cour­ages them to do so.

“It’s not go­ing to solve it­self without some­body in­sert­ing them­selves,” Stivers said, “and Amer­ica — I don’t want us to be the po­lice­man of the world, but I sure don’t mind us ref­er­ee­ing a fight if we can stop it.”

Sen. Claire Mc­Caskill said it’s pos­sible the vi­ol­ence will es­cal­ate to a break­ing point where the lead­ers have to sit down and talk it out.

“You can look at it two ways,” the Mis­souri Demo­crat said. “One, things are go­ing to have to calm down be­fore the peace pro­cess can be­gin again. On the oth­er hand, the vi­ol­ence and the stress that this takes on the people liv­ing in the coun­try, I would think, would urge polit­ic­al lead­ers to find peace.”

Ne­go­ti­ations don’t al­ways work, though, Mc­Caskill said. “Frankly, I think every­body should ac­know­ledge one thing,” she said. “If the peace pro­cess in Is­rael were easy, it would have happened dec­ades ago.”

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