What comes after Kerry’s ‘poof’?
A relatively stable security situation may not endure if the Israeli-Palestinian talks dissolve
Mitch Ginsburg is the former Times of Israel military correspondent.
With the Israeli-Palestinian dialogue going “poof,” as Secretary of State John Kerry put in on Tuesday, a question arises: How would the complete demise of the dialogue, if it comes to that, affect the security situation?
Early on in the process, with Kerry only four visits into his diplomacy blitz, the commander of the West Bank, Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon, a former special forces commander, told an audience of reporters that, while “the American involvement has had some positive influence on the ground,” a failure in the talks could cause the recent escalation in violence “to strengthen.”
The Times of Israel asked several experts to weigh in on that statement.
But first, in order to depict the situation, it may be helpful to think of a see-saw — earth-colored and squeaky and devoid of one of those soft tires that cushion one’s fall. Seated on one side, on the ground, somewhat contentedly, but surrounded by doomsayers pointing to a dwindling clock on the two-state solution, is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Up in the air and jumping with all his might — while being harassed by Egypt’s General Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, the Islamic Jihad, and Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah — is Hamas head Ismail Haniyeh. In the middle, the aging tightrope walker, PA President Mahmoud Abbas, white-knuckles his pole as he pivots away from Netanyahu; and Kerry, in a zebra jersey, heaves on his whistle and jabs an accusatory finger at a seemingly dumbfounded Netanyahu.
Beneath them, digging at the very foundations of the see-saw, are the clashing agents of destabilization: Iran’s revolutionary warriors and the Sunni soldiers of jihad.
A crumbling of peace talks will lead Abbas closer to reconciliation with Hamas, said Ely Karmon, a senior research fellow at the IDC Herzliya’s International Institute for Counter-Terrorism. “Hamas will take a ride on this issue,” he said of the faltering peace talks. “And if they get an agreement [with the PA], then their operational capacity to carry out attacks will increase,” worsening the security situation.
The end of talks, Karmon added, could also signal to all three actors along Israel’s northern borders — Iran, Hezbollah and the Sunni extremists — that a successful provocation of, say, a rocket fired from a Palestinian refugee camp in Syria could push the West Bank toward violence.
Col. (res) Shaul Shay, a career military intelligence officer and today the head of research at the IDF Herzliya’s Institute for Policy and Strategy, said the end of negotiations would have little effect on Abbas’s positioning on the see-saw. “The security coordination with the PA is a mutual interest,” he said. A severing of that cooperation and an outright pivot toward Hamas would put Abbas’s rule in jeopardy, he added, “and he, Abu Mazen, does not have suicidal tendencies.”
The notion of a sudden rise in Fatah-led terror, as occurred during the Second Intifada, he continued, “would require a radical strategic shift” on Abbas’s part, and was highly unlikely.
Former national security adviser Maj. Gen. (res) Uzi Dayan agreed that the farther the PA moves from Israel, the closer it inches toward Hamas, but suggested that a rise in terror, as a result of the end of talks, would simply mean “that Israel has to take security into its own hands.”
“It’s not dramatic,” he added.
Instead, the more significant results of the end of the trilateral talks, he said, would be unpleasant, “but healthy.”
The unpleasantness, he said, revolved around two facts: the realization that the Palestinians under Abbas are incapable of reaching an end-of-claims agreement; and the understanding that the very presence of American officials in the negotiating room dooms the negotiations to failure, because it prompts both sides to negotiate with the Americans rather than with each other.
“The chances of reaching a final-status solution are next to nil,” he said. But when this round of talks expires — as he believes it will — Israel and the PA could well sit down again, without the US, and reach an impermanent deal for peaceful coexistence.
“The negotiations took place in a bubble,” he said. “And bubbles burst. And it’s not nice. But it’s healthy.”