x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Will Israel listen to friendly advice?

Palestinian-Israel talks are not starting in a positive atmosphere. However, the presence of an overtly pro-Israeli US negotiator may have a bright side.

As the long overdue peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians begin, many Palestinians are sceptical. Will these talks bring about any resolution, let alone the touted two-state solution? Will they lead to relaxation of the endless, stifling grip of the Israeli military over their lives? Will they halt, or even reverse, the encroachment of Israel's illegal settlements in the West Bank? Few Palestinians will be expecting all of that.

Israelis, too, are sceptical, although it is less clear what about. The chief problem, after all, is Israel: its settlements, its belligerence, its refusal to compromise. So with some Israeli leaders openly sceptical about the chances of Israel ending its own occupation, then there can be little chance of progress.

Throw into this mix the last-minute announcement of the man who will take part in the negotiations for the United States: Martin Indyk, twice the US ambassador to Israel, an unashamed political Zionist who has spoken publicly of his warm feelings for Israel.

And so American "impartiality" rings hollow at every level: the US is Israel's committed ally, propping it up financially and backing it militarily and diplomatically. It has convened negotiations at which it offers as its envoy a man who is openly partisan. The world can be forgiven its scepticism; the Palestinians forgiven their despair.

And yet in a peace process riddled with imperfections and contradictions and scarcely worthy of the name, the appointment of Mr Indyk might not be the worst option. Like a recalcitrant toddler, Israel needs to be coaxed and prodded to make concessions, and the only way the country's leaders will be convinced to do that is if the pressure to do so comes from someone they feel is clearly on their side.

Based on his previous pronouncements, Mr Indyk may be expected to try to do what is best by Israel. But ultimately that may also be what is best for the Palestinians: the reversal of Israel's decline into an apartheid state and revitalising the two-state solution.

Perhaps Mr Indyk will be able to deliver that message and perhaps Israeli negotiators will hear it as the words of a friend. If that leads them to take difficult decisions that will benefit them and the region, then the whole region, and the whole world, will gain. In this intractable situation, even this faint ray of hope is better than none at all.