Israel-Palestinian Negotiations: History & Overview
Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat shake hands at the signing of the Oslo Accords.
The Interim Agreement
Milestones in the Implementation of the Interim Agreement
Permanent Status Negotiations
The Annapolis Conference
Abortive Attempt to Restart Talks
The 2016 French Initiative
Kerry’s Final Push
Trump and the Ultimate Deal
In September 1993, following intense behind-the-scenes contacts between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in Oslo, an agreement was achieved between Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat. On September 9, 1993, Arafat sent a letter to Prime Minister Rabin, in which he stated unequivocally that the PLO:
- Recognizes the right of Israel to exist in peace and security.
- Accepts UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.
- Commits itself to a peaceful resolution of the conflict.
- Renounces the use of terrorism and other acts of violence.
- Assumes responsibility over all PLO elements to ensure their compliance, prevent violations, and discipline violators.
- Affirms that those articles of the PLO Covenant which deny Israel’s right to exist are now inoperative and no longer valid.
- Undertakes to submit to the Palestinian National Council for formal approval the necessary changes to the Covenant.
In reply, Israel recognized the PLO as the representative of the Palestinians in the peace negotiations.
On September 13, 1993, a joint Israeli-Palestinian Declaration of Principles (DOP), based on the agreement worked out in Oslo, was signed by the two parties in Washington, outlining the proposed interim self-government arrangements, as envisioned and agreed by both sides. The arrangements contained in the DOP include immediate Palestinian self-rule in the Gaza Strip and Jericho, early empowerment for the Palestinians in West Bank, and an agreement on self-government and the election of a Palestinian council. Additionally, extensive economic cooperation between Israel and the Palestinians plays an important role in the DOP.
Shortly after the signing of the Declaration of Principles, negotiations commenced between Israeli and PLO delegations on the implementation of the interim agreement, which was accomplished in three stages:
1. The Gaza-Jericho Agreement was signed in Cairo on May 4, 1994, and applies to the Gaza Strip and to a defined area of about 65 square kilometers including Jericho and its environs. While the Declaration of Principles is a short document, consisting of approximately 20 pages, the Gaza-Jericho Agreement is a document containing almost 300 pages (the agreement itself and four annexes) with six maps attached. The Gaza-Jericho agreement addresses four main issues -- security arrangements, civil affairs, legal matters, and economic relations. The document includes agreement to a withdrawal of Israeli military forces from Gaza and Jericho, a transfer of authority from the Israeli Civil Administration to a Palestinian Authority (PA), the structure and composition of the Palestinian Authority, its jurisdiction and legislative powers, a Palestinian police force, and relations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
2. On August 29, 1994, the Agreement on Preparatory Transfer of Powers and Responsibilities was signed by Israel and the Palestinians. The Agreement puts into effect the next phase (early empowerment) of the Declaration of Principles.
In accordance with the DOP, the Agreement provides for the transfer of powers to the Palestinian Authority within five specified spheres:
- Education & Culture (carried out on August 29, 1994).
- Social Welfare.
- Tourism (both carried out on November 13-14, 1994).
- Taxation (both carried out on December 1, 1994).
On August 27, 1995, a protocol was signed transferring additional spheres to the Palestinian Authority: labor, trade and industry, gas and gasoline, insurance, postal services, statistics, agriculture, and local government.
3. On September 28, 1995, the Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip was signed in Washington, D.C. This agreement, which marks the conclusion of the first stage in negotiations between Israel and the PLO, incorporates and supersedes the Gaza-Jericho and Early Empowerment agreements.
The main object of the Interim Agreement is to broaden Palestinian self-government in the West Bank by means of an elected self-governing authority – the Palestinian Council -- for an interim period not to exceed five years from the signing of the Gaza-Jericho Agreement (i.e., no later than May 1999). This will allow the Palestinians to conduct their own internal affairs, reduce points of friction between Israelis and Palestinians, and open a new era of cooperation and co-existence based on common interest, dignity and mutual respect. At the same time, it protects Israel’s vital interests, and in particular its security interests, both with regard to external security as well as the personal security of its citizens in the West Bank.
The Interim Agreement sets forth the future relations between Israel and the Palestinians. To the main body of the agreement are appended seven annexes dealing with: security arrangements, elections, civil affairs (transfer of powers), legal matters, economic relations, Israeli-Palestinian cooperation, and the release of Palestinian prisoners.
Milestones in the Implementation of the Interim Agreement
On January 20, 1996, following completion of the first stage of IDF redeployment (with the exception of Hebron), elections were held to the Palestinian Council and for the Head of the Palestinian Authority. Yasser Arafat was elected Ra’ees (head) of the Authority.
On April 24, 1996, the Palestinian National Council, convening in Gaza, voted 504 to 54, with 14 abstentions, as follows:
- “The Palestinian National Charter is hereby amended by canceling the articles that are contrary to the letters exchanged between the P.L.O. and the Government of Israel 9-10 September 1993.
- Assigns its legal committee with the task of redrafting the Palestinian National Charter in order to present it to the first session of the Palestinian central council.” (24/04/96)
On December 14, 1998, the Palestinian National Council, in accordance with the Wye River Memorandum, convened in Gaza in the presence of U.S. President Clinton and voted to reaffirm this decision.
An agreement on a Temporary International Presence in Hebron was signed on May 9, 1996.
The Protocol Concerning the Redeployment in Hebron was signed on January 17, 1997. The Protocol was accompanied by a Note for the Record prepared by the US Special Middle East Coordinator, confirming a series of agreements between the sides on non-Hebron issues and reaffirming their commitment to implement the Interim Agreement on the basis of reciprocity.
On October 23, 1998, The Wye River Memorandum was signed at the White House, Washington D.C., between Israel and the PLO, following a nine-day summit hosted by U.S. President Mr. Bill Clinton in Wye Plantation, Maryland.
On September 4, 1999, the Sharm el-Sheikh Memorandum was signed by representatives of Israel and the PLO. Restating the commitment of the two sides to full implementation of all agreements reached since September 1993, the Memorandum sets out to resolve the outstanding issues of the present interim status, in particular those set out in the Wye River Memorandum of October 23, 1998.
The sides also restated their commitment to the Interim Agreement’s prohibition regarding initiating or taking any step that will change the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip prior to the conclusion of the permanent status agreement.
Stages of Sharm el-Sheikh implementation:
Release of prisoners: Sep 9, 1999. Oct 15, 1999.
Additional prisoners released for Ramadan: Dec 1999. Jan 2000.
Further redeployments: Sep 10, 1999 (7%); Jan 5-7, 2000 (5%); Mar 21, 2000 (6.1%).
Safe passage: southern route Oct 25, 1999; Shuhada Street Oct 31, 1999.
Displaced persons committee convenes: February 6, 2000.
Permanent Status Negotiations
The negotiations on the permanent status arrangements commenced in Taba on May 5, 1996. These negotiations will deal with the remaining issues to be resolved, including Jerusalem, refugees, settlements, security arrangements, borders, relations and cooperation with neighboring countries.
In a joint communique issued on May 6 at the close of the first session of talks, the two sides reaffirmed the principles guiding these negotiations.
In the Wye Memorandum of October 23, 1998, both sides agreed to immediately resume permanent status negotiations on an accelerated basis and to make a determined effort to reach agreement by May 4, 1999. A first meeting between Foreign Minister Ariel Sharon and Abu Mazen took place on November 18, 1998.
Following the Sharm el-Sheikh Memorandum, the permanent status negotiations were formally resumed on September 13, 1999, at the Erez checkpoint. Foreign Minister David Levy was appointed to head the Israeli negotiating team with the Palestinians, and Abu-Mazen heads the Palestinian team.
In his speech at the opening of the talks, Foreign Minister Levy summarized the basic principles by which Israel will be guided up in negotiating a permanent status agreement: we will not return to the 1967 lines. united Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel. settlement blocs in the territories will remain under Israeli sovereignty. there will be no foreign army west of the Jordan River.
At the urging of Israeli Prime Minister Barak, President Clinton announced on July 5, 2000, his invitation to Barak and Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat to come to Camp David to continue their negotiations on the Middle East peace process.
On July 11, the Camp David 2000 Summit convened. The summit ended on July 25, without an agreement being reached. At its conclusion, a Trilateral Statement was issued defining the agreed principles to guide future negotiations.
Under the shadow of violence and terrorism, President Clinton hosted talks with Israeli and Palestinian teams in Washington from December 19-23, 2000, at the conclusion of which Clinton presented a bridging proposal to the parties.
Following a meeting in Cairo between Foreign Minister Ben-Ami and Chairman Arafat, marathon talks between Israeli and Palestinian delegations were held in Taba from January 21-27, 2001, ending in a joint statement.
A policy statement issued by the Israeli government following the election of Ariel Sharon as Prime Minister in February 2001, reaffirmed the Israeli government’s determination in its aspiration to achieve peace with its Palestinian neighbors, but that the conduct of peace negotiations calls for tranquility.
Numerous efforts to end the violent confrontation and renew the peace process have failed due to the ongoing and escalating Palestinian terrorism supported by the Palestinian Authority. Israel accepted the vision presented in the speech by U.S. President Bush on June 24, 2002, for ending Palestinian terrorism, to be followed by the final settlement of all issues and peace. On April 30, 2003, the “road map“ for a solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict was presented to Israel and the Palestinians.
Following a U.S. statement regarding the Israeli comments on the road map, promising to address the Israeli concerns fully and seriously in the implementation, on May 23, 2003, Prime Minister Sharon issued a statement accepting the road map.
This acceptance was approved by the Government of Israel on May 25. A Middle East summit meeting, hosted by Jordanian King Abdullah II and attended by U.S. President Bush, Prime Minister Sharon and Palestinian Prime Minister Abbas was held in Aqaba on June 4, 2003.
The “hudna” (cease-fire) announced by the Fatah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorist organizations on June 29, 2003 came to a violent end with the August 19th suicide bombing of a bus in Jerusalem, in which 22 people were killed and over 130 wounded. As a result of the attack, the Cabinet decided on September 1, 2003, among others, to wage an all-out war against Hamas and other terrorist elements, and to freeze the diplomatic process with the Palestinian Authority.
On June 6, 2004, Israel’s cabinet approved the plan for disengagement from the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria. The Knesset endorsed the plan on October 25, 2004.
A summit meeting was held in Sharm el-Sheikh on February 8, 2005, attended by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and King Abdullah of Jordan. It was decided that all Palestinians would stop all acts of violence against all Israelis, and Israel would cease all its military activity against all Palestinians.
On August 15, 2005, Israel began the implementation of disengagement from the Gaza Strip and four northern Samaria communities. Disengagement from the Gaza Strip was completed on August 22, and from northern Samaria on August 23, 2005. On September 12, 2005, IDF forces completed their exit from the Gaza Strip. The Head of the IDF Southern Command, Maj. Gen. Dan Harel, signed a declaration stating the end of military rule in the Gaza Strip after 38 years.
On August 21, Prime Minister Sharon told the Cabinet: “In the Disengagement Plan there is only one stage of disengagement. The next stage in the diplomatic negotiations regards the Roadmap.”
Israel left the Gaza Strip in August 2005 in order to create the opportunity for peace. According to Dov Weissglas, Sharon’s chief of staff, “The moment Sharon understood that the settlements are a burden and not an advantage, he had no problem evacuating them and turning his back on the settlers.” Sharon, he said, “wanted to exit the stage as a battle-worn general who became a great peacemaker.”
After the elections in the Palestinian Authority (January 2006), which resulted in the establishment of the Hamas-led government, Israel adopted a dual strategy towards the Palestinians, maintaining pressure against Hamas and the extremists while not closing the door to dialogue with the moderates among the Palestinians towards a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip in June 2007 and the subsequent formation of the new moderate Fatah-led Palestinian government under President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad opened the door to a resumption of talks between Israel and the Palestinians, towards the achievement of the goal of two homelands for two peoples, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.
The future Palestinian state cannot be a terrorist entity. For this reason, the international community has insisted that the path to Palestinian statehood must follow acceptance of the conditions outlined by the international ‘Quartet’ (the UN, EU, US and Russia), including the renunciation of terrorism, acceptance of previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements and the recognition of Israel’s right to exist.
The Annapolis Conference
An international conference convened in Annapolis on November 27, 2007, to relaunch the negotiating process. Negotiating teams from both sides began direct talks in Jerusalem on December 12. The International Donors’ Conference for the Palestinian State which convened in Paris on December 17 expressed political and financial support to the government of President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and their vision of a future Palestinian state, underpinning the political process launched in Annapolis.
In June 2009, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presented his vision of peace with the Palestinians based on the principles of recognition and demilitarization: “In my vision of peace, in this small land of ours, two peoples live freely, side-by-side, in amity and mutual respect. Each will have its own flag, its own national anthem, its own government... A fundamental prerequisite for ending the conflict is a public, binding and unequivocal Palestinian recognition of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people. The territory under Palestinian control must be demilitarized with ironclad security provisions for Israel. Without these two conditions, there is a real danger that an armed Palestinian state would emerge that would become another terrorist base against the Jewish state, such as the one in Gaza.” He called on the Arab countries “to cooperate with the Palestinians and with us to advance an economic peace. An economic peace is not a substitute for a political peace, but an important element to achieving it.”
Various measures have been implemented by the Israeli government in order to strengthen and develop the Palestinian economy. These steps have been both bilateral and multilateral, involving the PA, Israel and the international community (both governmental and non-governmental). The results have been impressive and encouraging, with World Bank and PA statistics showing an 8% growth in the West Bank economy in 2009.
On March 8, 2010, Special Envoy for Middle East Peace George Mitchell made the following statement:
I’m pleased that the Israeli and Palestinian leadership have accepted indirect talks. We’ve begun to discuss the structure and scope of these talks and I will return to the region next week to continue our discussions. As we’ve said many times, we hope that these will lead to direct negotiations as soon as possible. We also again encourage the parties, and all concerned, to refrain from any statements or actions which may inflame tensions or prejudice the outcome of these talks.
After his meeting with President Barack Obama (July 6, 2010), Prime Minister Netanyahu said: “There’s a much greater meeting of the minds between President Obama and me on how to move forward at this time, how to make the transition from proximity talks into direct talks, and how to ensure that those direct talks are as substantive as possible and as soon as possible. I think that this delay does not get us any benefit. I think delaying the process, talking about talking, making conditions about getting into talks is a big mistake. I think it’s cost us about a year, and I don’t think it should cost us any more time.”
Abortive Attempt to Restart Talks
On August 20, 2010, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton invited Israel and the Palestinians to hold direct negotiations: “I’ve invited Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Abbas to meet on September 2 in Washington, D.C. to re-launch direct negotiations to resolve all final status issues, which we believe can be completed within one year.
Addressing a Joint Meeting of the U.S. Congress in May 2011, Netanyahu reiterated his commitment to the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside the Jewish state, adding: “I recognize that in a genuine peace, we will be required to give up parts of the Jewish homeland. We seek a peace in which they will be neither Israel’s subjects nor its citizens. They should enjoy a national life of dignity as a free, viable and independent people in their own state. They should enjoy a prosperous economy, where their creativity and initiative can flourish.”
While Israel remained dedicated to direct negotiations as the only method of resolving the conflict, the Palestinian leadership embarked on the path of unilateral action, preferring to attempt to force their will on Israel through international pressure, with the submission of a request for admission to the United Nations in September 2011.
On July 28, 2013, the Israeli Cabinet approved the opening of diplomatic negotiations between the State of Israel and the Palestinians, with U.S. support, with the objective of achieving a final status agreement over the course of the following nine months.
In November 2014 French officials produced a draft resolution outlining a “vision of a region where two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, live side by side in peace.” The resolution included five parameters for Israeli-Palestinian peace including the re-establishment of pre-1967 borders. The United States did not have any direct role in crafting the plan, but sources confirmed that Washington had been unofficially advising Paris about things to include in the resolution. Israel considered the text of this resolution to be too pro-Palestinian, with multiple calls to stop settlements but no mention of Hamas rocket and mortar attacks on Israeli civilians.
In his final address to the United Nations Security Council in March 2015, UN Middle East Envoy Chief Robert Serry implored the UNSC to lead the way in creating a lasting framework for Israeli-Palestinian peace. Serry argued that the UNSC presenting a framework for negotiations “may be the only way to preserve the goal of the two-state solution.” Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian envoy to the United Nations, indicated that he would be in favor of this plan and agreed with Serry’s comments.
The plans to introduce a UN resolution were delayed awaiting the outcome of the Israeli election. Nevertheless, French officials indicated in March 2015 that they would be willing to take initiative and attempt to jump-start peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians in the near future. The French Ambassador to the United Nations stated in early March that officials in Paris were committed to garnering UN support for a framework for future negotiations and ending settlements, stating “we won’t give up on this.” On March 27, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told reporters that French officials were going to start talks within the month on a “parameters resolution” for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Netanyahu’s Election “Conversion”
The prospects for a two-state solution appeared to dim when, in a last-ditch attempt to swing more right-wing voters, Netanyahu stated the day before the 2015 election that there was no chance of the establishment of a Palestinian state while he remained Prime Minister. Netanyahu had previously hinted that he would be in favor of a two-state solution, with an independent Palestinian state existing alongside Israel. In an interview with the Israeli news organization NRG, Netanyahu made his opinion clear, that “whoever moves to establish a Palestinian state or intends to withdraw from territory is simply yielding territory for radical Islamic terrorist attacks against Israel.” When asked if that meant that no Palestinian state would be established while he was Prime Minister, he responded “indeed.”
Isaac Herzog, Netanyahu’s main competitor during 2015’s election, was in favor of reviving peace talks with Palestinians and working towards a two-state solution. Tzipi Livni, Herzog’s running-mate, was also interested in restarting peace negotiations with the Palestinians.
Netanyahu won the election and his aides played damage control during the following days, speaking on various news programs trying to convince the world that Netanyahu had not in fact asserted his support for a one state solution. Speaking on English television programs, Netanyahu attempted to backpedal on his statements, claiming what he meant is that the conditions currently don’t exist for a two-state solution, and in his opinion much needs to change before a two-state solution is even considered. President Barack Obama responded to these remarks by Netanyahu, saying that the prospect for Israeli-Palestinian peace seems “very dim” and that the United States is going to be re-evaluating their relationship with Israel in the coming years.
In response to Netanyahu’s decisive victory in the March 2015 elections, the Palestinians vowed to increase diplomatic efforts at statehood recognition through different U.N. avenues.
Diplomats informed the media on April 29, 2015, that the United States had been discretely pressuring France and other countries to not present this “parameters resolution” in an attempt to reignite Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, until after a final nuclear accord is reached between Iran and the P5+1. Wary of pursuing multiple initiatives at once that are both unfavorable to Israel and Israel’s supporters in Congress, the representatives from the United States pushed for a significant delay in presenting the measure to the Security Council.
Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian’s chief negotiator, stated on May 18, 2015, that there was not a single chance of renewing meaningful peace negotiations with the newly elected Netanyahu government in power.
Although unconfirmed by Israel or Hamas, international diplomats reported on May 18, 2015, that Israeli and Hamas officials had been holding meetings in Europe and Jerusalem, focusing on a possible floating port in the Gaza Strip. In addition to a port, discussions reportedly included a proposition to expand the borders of Gaza into the Sinai. In August 2015 Israel officially denied these talks were taking place, contrary to reports appearing in Arab news outlets.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told European Union Foreign Policy chief Federica Mogherini in May 2015 that he believes “negotiations should be resumed in order to define those areas in which we can build,” echoing sentiment from the U.S. and E.U. that Israel should attempt to re-engage the Palestinians.
Dore Gold, the Director-General of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, embarked on a secretive trip to Egypt on June 28, 2015, to engage in discussions with Egyptian officials regarding restarting peace talks with the Palestinians. Egyptian news agencies reported that Gold met with Egyptian officials to discuss “how to push the peace process forward.”
During an address to the United Nations General Assembly on September 30, 2015, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas asserted that the PA was no longer bound by the Oslo Accords as well as all subsequent agreements between the PA and Israel.
Palestinian leaders stoked the flames of violence during September and October 2015, spreading false information about Israel’s actions surrounding the Temple Mount. Mahmoud Abbas stated that Israelis were “desecrating” Muslim holy sites the al-Aqsa Mosque and Church of the Holy Sepulcher with their “filthy feet,” and encouraged Palestinians to carry out acts of violence against Jewish Israelis. From September 13 - October 21, 2015, 9 Israelis were killed in terror attacks and over 50 were wounded. The wave of violence experienced during late 2015 was due mostly to a Palestinian perception that the Israelis were going to somehow change the rules of who could access the Temple Mount, undermining Muslim supremacy at the holy site. The Israeli government issued official statements clarifying that there was no intention of changing the status-quo at the Temple Mount, but Palestinian leaders continued to incite violence against Israeli Jews through speeches and posts on social media. Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh declared Friday, October 9, to be a “day of rage... a day that will represent that start of a new Intifada in all the land of Palestine.” U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon travelled to Israel on October 20 to meet with officials, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with Prime Minister Netanyahu later that week to discuss a potential solution to the recent violence. The Israeli and U.S. officials discussed how to reaffirm Israel’s commitment to maintaining equitable treatment of all at the Temple Mount and al-Aqsa mosque. Afterwards, Kerry told reporters, “I would characterize the conversation as one that gave me a cautious measure of optimism... there may be a way to defuse the situation and begin to find a way forward.”
Ban ki-Moon had a less optimistic assessment of the situation after meeting with Israeli and Palestinian leaders. According to British Ambassador to the United Nations Matthew Rycroft, members of the UN were “struck by the pessimistic tone” that Ban took during a video briefing with members following his visit to Israel. While summarizing the meetings during a video-call with his UN counterparts, Ban stated that he believed there was a wide gap between the two sides.
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu once again argued on October 28, 2015, that he was ready to meet with Palestinian leaders to discuss a lasting peace at any time, but it is the Palestinian leaders who have continually refused such meetings.
The 2016 French Initiative
French officials announced on January 29, 2016, that they would be spearheading an initiative to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and pledged to recognize the independent state of Palestine if their efforts were to fail. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius revealed preparation plans for an international conference “to preserve and make happen the two-state solution,” including American, European, and Arab partners. The French initiative to convene an international peace summit to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was presented to Israeli diplomats on February 15, 2016. It included a three-step process: consulting with the parties involved, convening a meeting in Paris of the international negotiation support group including several countries wanting to jump-start the peace process, and finally the summit itself that will hopefully re-start negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians. In contrast to the comments of Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki, who stated during a February visit to Japan that the Palestinians “will never go back and sit again in direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.” Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said that he welcomed the French proposal, but Netanyahu called the initiative “bizarre,” and maintained that bilateral negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians was the only way to achieve lasting peace.
The official peace effort was launched on March 10, 2016, without the stipulation that Palestine would be automatically recognized by France should the effort fail. French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault stated that “there is never anything automatic. France will present its initiative to its partners. It will be the first step, there is no pre-requisite.” France announced that the first, preliminary meeting would be held on May 30, 2016, in Paris. Although the summit will feature representatives from 20 countries discussing Israeli-Palestinian peace, representatives from Israel and the Palestinian territories were not invited to attend. Assuming the success of this initial summit, Israeli and Palestinian officials were told they would be invited to a second international summit hosted by France later in 2016. The Israeli government formally rejected the French initiative on April 28, 2016. A statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office explained the Israelis position, that “the best way to resolve the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is direct, bilateral negotiations.” Despite vocal Israeli opposition, French officials made plans to move forward with the “French Initiative.”
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas stated during an interview with Palestinian Channel 2 News during early April that he was willing to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and attempt to negotiate a peace agreement. Netanyahu responded to this on April 4, 2016, telling Abbas that he was willing to meet at any time, and he had “cleared [his] schedule,” in order to meet with the Palestinian leader. Palestinian officials rejected Netanyahu’s offer two days later. Chief Palestinian Negotiator Saeb Erekat told a popular Palestinian radio show that the Palestinian government rejects the idea of meeting for peace talks with Israelis without prior conditions being laid out.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi encouraged Palestinian and Israeli leaders to come to a lasting peace agreement on May 16, 2016, stating that peace between the two groups would in turn “achieve warmer peace” between the Egyptians and Israelis. In response, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu released statement in which he “Welcome[d] Egyptian President El-Sisi’s remarks and his willingness to make every effort to advance a future of peace and security between us and the Palestinians.”
Although Netanyahu rejected the “French Initiative” just two weeks prior, during meetings on May 22, 2016, with French Prime Minister Manuel Valls he offered instead to hold direct negotiations with Mahmoud Abbas. These talks would take place in France, and would still be dubbed the “French Initiative,” according to Netanyahu. A spokesperson for PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah retorted “Direct negotiations with Mr. Netanyahu in the past have proven to be fruitless. why repeat the same mistakes?”
The United States announced that they would not be proposing any specific peace plan at the French Initiative conference during the week prior.
The conference in France concluded without any resolutions. The participants released a Joint Communique, which can be read here. During the following week, representatives of all 28 European Union member countries signed a resolution expressing support for the French peace initiative.
The Middle East Quartet (the UN, the E.U., the U.S., and Russia) released a report on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in early July 2016, following their meeting in Munich on February 12. The report concludes that the only solution to the conflict is a negotiated agreement between the two parties, and that three things are “severely undermining hopes for peace”: violence and incitement to violence by the Palestinian leadership, Israeli settlement construction and expansion, and the arms buildup by Hamas combined with the humanitarian situation and lack of effective governance in Gaza. The document urges both the Israelis and Palestinians to “[comply] with their basic commitments under existing agreements in order to promote [a] two-state reality and lay the groundwork for successful negotiations.” To read the full report by the Middle East Quartet, please click here.
The French government announced a second Middle East peace conference to be held in Paris during January 2017,which the Israelis once again soundly rejected. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu verbally assailed the organizers, referring to the conference as a “rigged conference, rigged by the Palestinians with French auspices to adopt additional anti-Israel stances.” French officials welcomed representatives from 70 countries to this conference on January 14, 2016, to “reaffirm their support for a just, lasting and comprehensive resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” To read the Joint Declaration adopted by the participating countries at the end of the conference, please click here.
Kerry’s Final Push
During Obama’s final year in office, Secretary of State John Kerry continued a U.S. diplomatic effort to bring Israel and the Palestinians together for peace talks. Though he worked tirelessly, Kerry could not overcome Mahmoud Abbas’ resistance to engaging in any direct talks with Netanyahu and the Palestinians’ determination to build an international consensus against Israel. As he had throughout Obama’s term, Netanyahu offered to meet with Abbas, but the Israeli still became the object of Kerry’s ire because of what the secretary saw as the prime minister’s uncompromising attitude and unwillingness to curb settlement expansion.
Thanks to Israel’s improved ties with the Gulf States, Netanyahu advocated pursuing peace with those countries first, hoping they would bring along the Palestinians. Kerry had eschewed this approach until proposing a regional peace initiative (which the Palestinians were not informed about and other regional actors had not agreed to at that point) during a secret meeting February 21, 2016, in Aqaba, which was also attended by Jordanian King Abdullah and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Netanyahu intimated he had been the one who initiated the proposal not Kerry, which made his subsequent opposition to the idea surprising.
Trump and the Ultimate Deal
President Donald Trump met with Prime Minister Netanyahu for the first time as President on February 15, 2017. During a joint press conference with the Prime Minister the President dropped the historic U.S. commitment to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, stating I’m looking at two states and one state, and... I can live with either one.
On December 6, 2017, Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and announced the U.S. would begin the process of moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Subsequently, the administration said it would move the embassy to the current location of the Jerusalem consulate on May 14, 2018, to coincide with the 70th anniversary of Israel’s declaration of independence.
Palestinian Authority officials rejected a U.S. offer to participate in a Gaza stakeholders summit on March 13, 2018. The summit convened with the goal of addressing the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and was attended by representatives from 19 nations including Israel and all of the Arab Gulf states.
In July 2019, the Trump administration released the economic component of its much-anticipated peace plan at a conference in Bahrain. Preparations for the conference got off to an inauspicious start when the Palestinians announced they were boycotting the meeting because they saw it as an effort to “buy off Palestinian political aspirations by financial means.” Without Palestinian participation, it became politically impossible to invite the Israelis (though some businesspeople attended) so the conference took place without the parties involved.
The Arab states ignored the Palestinians’ call to boycott the conference, though some did send lower-level officials. Palestinian businesspeople were also warned not to attend. The 15 who did were arrested, threatened and harassed when they returned.
The 38-page “Peace to Prosperity“ plan calls on Arab states to supply $50 billion in development aid to the Palestinians. Two of the goals are to double the GDP of the Palestinians and create one million jobs over the next ten years. The funding includes money to create economic opportunities for women and grants for a variety of projects, from building hospitals to promoting tourism to upgrading the Gaza power plant. It also seeks to encourage regional integration and cooperation.
The Israelis objected to the $5 billion proposal for a highway and railway between the West Bank and Gaza Strip. They feared that this indicated the administration sees the two areas as a single territorial unit and would pose a security threat. Earlier peace negotiations, however, envisioned a similar solution to linking the areas if a Palestinian state was created. Jason Greenblatt, the Special Representative for International Negotiations, tried to reassure the Israelis when he said during the conference, “We are not suggesting any corridor whatsoever that doesn’t completely make Israel comfortable that it will not be a danger to Israel.”
While some commentators viewed the economic plan as an important first step in an evolutionary process toward peace. others argued it was pointless to focus on economics without fulfilling Palestinians’ political demands.
On January 28, 2020, the full peace plan was released. Prime Minister Netanyahu welcomed the initiative, but it received a mixed reception in the American Jewish community. Several left-leaning organizations denounced it because the Palestinians were not involved in its formulation and the conception of a two-state solution is dramatically different from past peace plans. Even some on the right were critical of its call for the creation of a Palestinian state with its capital in a part of Jerusalem. Some liked that Israel would be allowed to annex about 30 percent of the West Bank and that no settlements would have to be evacuated, but were less happy with the proposed four-year freeze on the establishment of new communities.
With no support from the Palestinians or the international community, and ongoing political chaos in Israel, the administration made little effort to advance the plan. Instead, it focused on promoting peace between Israel and Arab nations. This was ultimately successful and resulted in the signing of the Abraham Accords with Bahrain and the UAE, and the normalization of relations between Israel, Morocco, and Sudan.
Sources: “Israeli official visits Cairo to discuss Palestinian peace talks,” Reuters, (June 28, 2015).
Maayan Lubell, “Netanyahu offers to resume peace talks with settlement focus, official says,” Reuters, (May 26, 2015).
Khaled Abu Toameh, “Abbas: Hamas and Israel holding secret talks,” The Jerusalem Post, (May 19, 2015).
Colum Lynch, “White House to UN: First Iran, then Mideast peace,” Foreign Policy, (April 28, 2015).
Colum Lynch, “Exclusive: Paris saying ‘non’ to U.S. control of peace process,” Foreign Policy, (March 26, 2015).
The Associated Press, “Outgoing Mideast envoy urges Security Council to present framework for Israeli-Palestinian talks,” Haaretz, (March 26, 2015).
Karen DeYoung, “Obama remarks dim prospects for Palestinian state,” The Washington Post, (March 24, 2015).
Judy Rudoren, “Netanyahu apologizes, White House is unmoved,” The New York Times, (March 24, 2015).
Israeli Foreign Ministry .
Rick Gladstone, Judy Rudoren, “Mahmoud Abbas, PA President, says he is no longer bound by Oslo Accords,” New York Times, (September 30, 2015).
Ben Lynfield, “Gaza shootings: Hamas pledge new intifada as 'day of rage' sees Israeli soldiers kill six Palestinian protesters,” Independent, (October 9, 2015).
Jay Solomon, Rory Jones, “Kerry expresses cautious optimism after meeting with Netanyahu,” Wall Street Journal, (October 22, 2015).
Alexandra Olson, “UN chief pessimistic about Israeli-Palestinian peace,” Yahoo News, (October 22, 2015).
Khaled Abu Toameh, Herb Keinon, “Israel welcomes French proposal for Netanyahu-Abbas meeting,” Jerusalem Post, (October 28, 2015).
Oren Dorell, “France threatens to recognize Palestinian state if no progress with Israel,” USA Today, (January 31, 2016).
Barak Ravid, “France Presents Middle East Peace Initiative to Israel,” Haaretz, (February 15, 2016).
“France aims to relaunch Israel-Palestinian peace process ‘by summer,’” Yahoo News, (March 10, 2016).
Raoul Wootliff, Raphael Ahren. “Netanyahu responds to Abbas invite: ‘I’ll be here, any day,’” Times of Israel (April 4, 2016).
Herb Keinon, “France to convene Mideast summit in May, without Israel or Palestinians,” Jerusalem Post (April 21, 2016).
Herb Keinon, “Jerusalem rejects French peace initiative,” Jerusalem Post, (April 28, 2016).
“Solving Palestinian-Israeli conflict will make Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty ‘warmer’: Al-Sisi,” Daily News Egypt, (May 18, 2016).
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“EU foreign ministers approve resolution backing French peace initiative,” JTA (June 20, 2016).
Jeffrey Heller, Jeff Mason. “Peres funeral, attended by Obama, briefly brings Israeli, Palestinian leaders together,” Reuters (September 30, 2016).
Mike Smith, “Netanyahu dismisses ‘rigged’ Paris peace conference,” Yahoo, (January 12, 2017).
Barak Ravid, Trump Declines to Endorse Two-state Solution, Calls on Netanyahu to Hold Back on Settlements, Haaretz, (February 15, 2017).
Palestinians reject US invitation to Gaza ‘stakeholder’ summit, Al Jazeera, (March 10, 2018).
Ronen Bergman, “How Arafat Eluded Israel’s Assassination Machine,” New York Times Magazine, (January 23, 2018).
Mitchell Bard, “US-Israel Relations and Obama’s Mixed Legacy Followed by the Uncertainty of Trump,” in Arnold Dashefsky and Ira Sheskin, Eds., American Jewish Yearbook 2017, (CT: Springer, 2018).
Photo: Israel Defense Forces.