JERUSALEM -- With the nine months initially allotted by U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry to Israeli-Palestinian peace talks more than halfway spent and a rumored American plan nearing, a scrambling for a foothold appears underway.
Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, over the weekend, Kerry cautioned both sides of the consequences of failure.
The demographic dynamic will make it impossible for Israel to remain Jewish and democratic, Kerry said, adding that “the status quo, my friends ... will not last forever.”
As for the Palestinians, they will be no closer to sovereignty or controlling their own fate and economy, Kerry said. If they do not achieve statehood now, “there is no guarantee” of another opportunity anytime soon, he said.
“Some assert this may be the last shot. ... I don’t want to find out the hard way,” Kerry said.
Increasingly, both parties seem to be entrenching themselves in toughening positions while pointing an accusing finger at the other side for tripping up the talks.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, also speaking in Davos, declared that he does not intend “to remove a single settlement” or uproot a single Jew as part of any peace process.
At first, his comments met with approval from Israel’s right wing, which is opposed to removing settlements.
However, on Sunday, an unnamed government official briefed the media to clarify that Netanyahu meant that settlers would be given the choice to stay in their homes and live in a future Palestinian state.
If that bombshell was meant for Palestinian ears, it drew what a number of observers believe was the desired response from chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, who told the Associated Press that the Palestinians would not accept a single Jewish settler in their proposed state.
But it also exploded in Netanyahu’s own coalition, underscoring its tenuous political composition and sparking a fierce exchange between government hawks and the prime minister’s office.
Economy Minister Naftali Bennett accused Netanyahu of an “irrational loss of values” and said Jews did not yearn for Israel for 2,000 years in order to “live under Palestinian rule”.
Joining the harsh criticism were several deputy ministers from Netanyahu’s own Likud party, including Tzipi Hotovely, who said the party would never back such a dangerous plan.
Netanyahu’s office responded by accusing Bennett of sabotaging “a move designed to expose the true face of the Palestinian Authority” to gain a quick headline. Besides, the prime minister’s office suggested Monday, he and others are free to quit the ruling coalition.
Netanyahu did not comment on the matter directly, leaving the stage to unnamed officials and the question about the true aim of his remarks open.
Whether a trial balloon gone astray or a crafted crisis, the flap concerning Netanyahu’s comments took place as half of Israel’s parliament was out of the country Monday attending events in Poland for International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Though the peace process is widely regarded as stuck, “something is happening there or the right wing wouldn’t be so upset,” political commentator Nehama Duek told Israel Radio. Ultimately, this could result in changes in the ruling coalition and possibly early elections, she said.
Sobelman is a news assistant in The Times’ Jerusalem bureau.