The current Israeli coalition government led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid has exceeded everyone’s expectations. But it is now on the brink of collapse. With just 60 seats in the Knesset, and threats of resignation from members on both the right and left, the government appears to be the weakest it has ever been. It is likely just a matter of time before the government falls and new elections are held.
That is why it is so strange that the Biden administration chose this moment of government instability to promote Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. And it is even more curious that the suggestion was made since — at least until now — solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict did not appear to be a lead priority for the Biden administration. Add to that the fact that everyone understands that the eight-party Bennett-Lapid coalition would likely implode over peace issues. And it is for that reason that no one seriously seeks to raise them. On top of all that, given the government’s uncertain future, it is widely understood that any agreement reached by this government would immediately be subject to review and reconsideration if a new governing group takes control.
Nonetheless, according to reports, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman recently suggested to Israeli National Security Adviser Eyal Hulata that Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Jordan, Egypt and the U.S. convene a full-blown peace summit to address Israeli-Palestinian issues. This suggestion came at the same time as the Biden administration is reportedly considering creating a new senior diplomatic position within the State Department for a special representative for Palestinian affairs.
The administration’s moves appear to be part of an attempt to appease PA President Mahmoud Abbas, who has voiced both frustration and anger with the lack of movement on a peace process, and who has threatened retaliatory actions if nothing is done. The Israeli government is reported to have rejected the U.S. suggestion for a multi-party summit. In light of current political realities, that decision makes sense. But it doesn’t explain why the Biden administration made the suggestion or why it felt that now was the right time to raise it.
Perhaps the administration is seeking to add substance and seriousness of purpose to President Joe Biden’s planned trip to the Middle East next month. And maybe there was some hope that an Israeli-Palestinian summit would draw attention away from the politically uncomfortable rapprochement efforts Biden will be pursuing with Saudi Arabia.
Either way, the effort did not work. Instead, Israel made clear that it is not interested in a feel-good photo op for a peace summit that has no likelihood of success. We agree. While we remain supportive of a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians, that effort needs to be pursued at a time and with participants who not only support the effort but are also capable of achieving a lasting result. For a whole bunch of reasons, that is not today’s reality.