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US Secretary of State Kerry hosts a dinner for Israeli Justice Minister Tsipi Livni and Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat in Washington July 29, 2013. (Reuters)

Israeli and Palestinian peace negotiations have resumed after a prolonged hiatus. Six Middle East trips, and tireless efforts by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made this resumption possible. The talks face three major challenges as a new chapter begins in the twenty year-long saga of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

Diplomatic Ambiguity. One fundamental challenge will be turning the very ambiguity that is enabling talks to resume, into the clarity and transparency necessary for a durable agreement. Vague diplomatic formulas were used to bridge seemingly irreconcilable differences. This allowed both Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian President Abbas to claim that they did not back down to get talks started. But the goal of negotiations is to put pen to paper. There, transparency will be needed to produce an agreement that resolves core differences, such delineating the Israel-Palestine border.

Domestic Constraints.  Secondly, both Israelis and Palestinians will face formidable domestic challenges to making diplomatic progress. Both sides will be negotiating, not only with each other across a table, but also with their own people back home. Resuming talks with Israel is very unpopular amongst Palestinians, even within Fatah and the Palestine Liberation Organization, which President Abbas heads. Abbas’ main political opposition, Hamas, has denounced the talks. Palestinians fear that Israel wants open ended negotiations, and that their political standing will fall without rapid and tangible results from talks. This both constrains Abbas’ ability to be flexible while pressuring him to obtain quick results from Israel.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s domestic situation is also difficult. Some of his main coalition partners oppose the creation of a Palestinian state, as do many of his own Likud party lieutenants. To make negotiating concessions to the Palestinians, Netanyahu may need to realign his political base, and even leave his party to make progress with the Palestinians, as did three earlier Likud leaders– Arik Sharon, Ehud Olmert, and Tzipi Livni.

U.S. Opportunity Costs. The third major challenge concerns the United States. This latest effort to launch talks required sustained, high level engagement by Secretary of State Kerry. Indeed, it has taken up more of his time in office, so far, than any other single issue.  Yet the U.S. faces many other pressing problems of vital national concern in the Middle East and in the rest of the world. At some point soon, Secretary Kerry and President Barack Obama will have to decide if Israeli-Palestinian talks merit the sustained investment of precious time and effort by America’s lead diplomat, or if the secretary’s energies would better be utilized trying to end the regionally destabilizing war in Syria, manage the delicate road ahead with Egypt, or lead a coalition to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.  Pursuing all of these objectives, while producing an Israeli-Palestinian agreement, will be a major challenge, to say the least.

A version of this post was originally published on

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Robert M. Danin

Robert M. Danin is the Eni Enrico Mattei senior fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. On Twitter, he can be followed at @robertdanin.


  1. Asak Jalalzai

    November 25, 2013

    Add a comment…

  2. JKF2

    August 19, 2013

    In my opinion, a few points needed for peace to come about: both parties must want peace; both parties must give up something of value; both parties must have the support of their respective people; and, at least, lastly both parties must actually believe that peace will bring about a better life for their citizens. On point one- do really both parties want peace? in reality the majority of Isrs have wanted peace for a long time, on the Pal side the majority have wanted to kill all the Jews, many have tried to kill at least some, most celebrate those killings, even when the victims are children and civilians, so the answ to point one, in my pessimistic view/opinion is no given the propensity of celebratory acts by the Pals on the death of innocent Jews! Giving-up something of value- notwithstanding the historical and archeological facts, Isrs are willing to share their ancestral lands with Arab Muslims and Christians; fact- almost 20% of the population of the state of Isr are Muslims, with full rights as citizens as Isr citizens; the Pal leaders have indicated, time and time again, that they will not accept Jews in their future Pal state, which everyone expects to be in/over ancestral Jewish lands. The answ to point two is also no! On point three, it is clear that only the Isr have the majority support for a peace deal, on this point, the Pals can’t even agree to settle their own differences, on three, the answ is no! On point four, neither the majority of Isrs nor the majority of Pals believe a better future will be achieved; the Isr have a well rooted fear for their security, based on very bad past experiences, the Pals fear the loss of massive foreign aid, on the expectation that the Pals will need to stand on their own feet; if one looks at all the other Arab republics, the Pals will not be able to stand on their own feet, therefore their fears are also well rooted. I can’t see much reason for optimism, but who knows, maybe by magic all will turnaround and both the Pals and Isrs will achieve a peace deal, and all will be OK. Unfortunately for both, Isr/Pals, the two state solution is an optimal solution; the alternative is a very devastating terminal war, that resolves the issues once and for all, making for at least one side a total loss.

  3. hotbabyboomer

    August 9, 2013

    Talk,talk,talk…There is a solution. Israel will not return to the 1967 boarders that’s a given. So Netanyahu needs to get off his lazy behind and show a boarder ISRAEL will feel safe and not give the Palestine army a stones throw to Israel. There is plenty of land there. Next there needs to be an understanding that Arab/Israeli citizens will not loose their land if the boarders include their land AND they will not be killed as traitors. Forget about Jerusalem. Palestine already has a capital..actually kinda two if you count Gaza. Keep in mind the war of 1967 was intended to wipe out Israel. Instead Israel won and the west bank was turned over to Israel FROM JORDAN. Why is Israel’s safety hard to understand? The USA didn’t let Cuba have nuclear war heads..too close to USA. Israel will not allow Palestines to be “in their backyard”. Their has to be a boarder drawn by Israel. Peace talks without knowing where Palestine will be is a waste of time. If Palestine will not agree with Israel then END THE TALKS. A Palestine state was not sought while Jordan was the landlord. As soon as Jews became the landlord the drive for Palestine began. The way Gaza has been destroyed by Hamas I wouldn’t give a west bank state much hope.

    • Michael Davison

      August 10, 2013

      Historically, the British screwed the entire deal when they executed half the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine without executing the second part.
      The creation of what is now the “Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan” made up 77% of the total Mandated land area, and had its western border at the Jordan River. A couple of years later, under the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916, in which the British and French colonial empires carved up the Ottoman Empire between them while WW I was still raging and undecided, annexed another 1% of the British Mandate for Palestine to the French Mandate for Syria in the Golan Heights. (That 1% of the Golan Heights is approximately what Israel presently holds as a result of Syrian aggression in 1967 and refusal to negotiate ever since.)
      At that time, what could have been more logical than to define the remaining 22% as the “Jewish homeland” defined in the LoN Mandate for Palestine?
      However, the British government was too interested in placating the Arabs at the expense of the Jews. Had Great Britain been an “honest broker” for the Mandate of Palestine back in the 1920s, the results are unimaginable. For one thing, there would have either been no Holocaust with almost six million dead Jews or that number would have been considerably smaller, since that postage-0stamp sized country on the coast of the eastern Mediterranean would have accepted as many Jewish refugees as possible, something that no other country in the world did.
      As it stands now, the British, under the mask of the EU, are still trying to screw up the deal they reneged on so many years ago by pushing for the creation of a second Arab state on that 22% of the Mandate land that should have been allocated to the Jews back in the 1920s.
      This fact, more than anything else, guarantees that the EU can NEVER be an honest broker over anything related to the Arab-Israeli conflict– and the US record isn’t much better…

  4. sukh

    August 4, 2013

    sadly! nothing will peace!


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