Peace Talks On Pause: What Went Wrong?

Middle East peace talks have been officially paused; unofficially, many say they're finished. Jeffrey Goldberg of Bloomberg View and The Atlantic explains how Secretary of State John Kerry's mission fell apart.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Now, the moribund Middle East peace process. People who follow that decades-long U.S. diplomatic effort, remember a moment in 1990. A frustrated U.S. Secretary of State, James Baker, fed up with the intransigence of Palestinians and Israelis made this memorable declaration to in testimony to Congress.

JAMES BAKER: Everybody over there should know that the telephone number is 1-202-456-1414. When you're serious about peace, call us.

SIEGEL: That's the number of the White House. And the years since have witnessed: the Madrid Peace Conference, the Oslo Accords, the birth of the Palestinian Authority, a Palestinian uprising, Israeli settlement construction, several unproductive summits and then, last year, a renewed pursuit of a two-state settlement by Secretary of State John Kerry.

SECRETARY JOHN KERRY: It's no secret that this is a difficult process. If it were easy, it would have happened a long time ago.

SIEGEL: Well, that process has now been officially paused. Unofficially, most people would say it's finished.

Jeffrey Goldberg, columnist for Bloomberg View, follows Mid-East diplomacy carefully and joins us now. Welcome to the program.

JEFFREY GOLDBERG: Thank you.

SIEGEL: Why did the Kerry mission fell?

GOLDBERG: Well, I don't think it has completely failed yet. So I would argue against issuing a death certificate. If there's something, you could issue like a comatose certificate, you could probably do that.

The two leaders mistrust each other to levels that are, even by Middle East standards, almost unfathomable.

SIEGEL: Netanyahu and Abbas.

GOLDBERG: Netanyahu and Abbas. Netanyahu has some particular political problems. He has a coalition government, many of the components of which are to the right of his own feelings on the subject. He will lose that coalition and he will endanger his own prime ministership, if he goes down the path John Kerry wants him to go down. On the Palestinian side, you have the Palestinian leader who, as early as February, even January, seems to have disengaged entirely from this process and has not, from what I understand, even responded to American ideas and American theories about what to do next.

SIEGEL: So virtually no progress to report after these several months. What is the U.S. likely to do next?

GOLDBERG: Well, I think, the reason I say that this process isn't dead is that there is, from what I understand, a kind of offer on the table. I think Abu Mazen, President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, will come back to the table, would come back to the table if he gets the remaining prisoners have been promised to him, roughly 20. And if Israel accedes to a, even a three-month settlement freeze, building of settlements, not only the West Bank but in Jerusalem. And so, it is not dead in the sense that there's a path forward.

It's very unclear to me whether Netanyahu will go down that path. And Netanyahu has his own concern, which is that the Palestinian Authority has just reconciled, I mean until the next time they have a civil war. They just reconciled with Hamas and Hamas, of course, is a terrorist organization devoted to Israel's destruction. And Netanyahu says I can't talk to anybody who's playing footsie with these guys.

SIEGEL: Let's say, after three months, after how many months, they just say we've got nothing here. This is the status quo and Palestinians won't accept what the Israelis are willing to give, and Israelis will give what the Palestinians insist on accepting. What happened?

GOLDBERG: One of the dangers is that the Palestinians Authority collapses on itself. I don't mean being collapses organically. I mean that President Abbas says enough, you guys don't want me to have a state, you won't even tell me what my state is going to look like, so I'm turning over the keys back to you. You're in charge of the West Bank. I'm dismantling definitely my security apparatus. I'm dismantling my government infrastructure...

SIEGEL: He's telling the Israelis here: You run the schools, you run the police, you collect the garbage. Yeah.

GOLDBERG: This is an occupation so just occupy us fully, don't make believe that there's a Palestinian entity that's going to be a state one day, when you don't want to. The Israelis are worried about that. The Americans are worried about that. And so, it's a real threat. Obviously another path and John Kerry has talked about this maybe sometimes rather too bluntly, is a path of violence. That the Palestinians realize they're not getting a state, and then returned to the levels of violence that we saw 13, 14 years ago. There are a lot of unpleasant scenarios here that we can entertain.

SIEGEL: Is the U.S. near the James Baker here's the White House phone number moment saying, you know, we can't want this anymore than you two want it? When you're ready for peace give us a ring?

GOLDBERG: I think President Obama might be near that moment. But the number he would get out is John Kerry's number. He would say, you know, call John. Don't bother me but call John if you are interested in continuing this. Kerry, I don't think will ever get to that point. Kerry believes that this is his mission, that it is possible ,that the impasse is not permanent, and he is quite the optimist on this subject.

SIEGEL: Jeffrey Goldberg, of Bloomberg View, thanks for talking with us.

GOLDBERG: Thank you.

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