We won’t say we’re cautiously optimistic about last week’s announcement that Israel and the Palestinians have agreed to resume direct peace talks after a three-year lull. There have been too many false starts before to get too excited now.
But we will say we’re cautiously pragmatic.
Last Friday, Secretary of State John Kerry, following six trips to the region, finally announced from Amman, Jordan, that Israel and the Palestinian Authority had laid the groundwork for a resumption of peace talks, which could begin, as early as this week, according to some reports.
Kerry laid out a broad framework for the talks, saying they would last six to nine months their goal being to reach a two-state, final-status agreement.
Beyond that, we know — almost nothing.
We don’t know if Israel agreed to any preconditions set by P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas, or even just a freeze in settlement construction. We don’t know if Abbas agreed to recognize a Jewish state living side-by-side with the Palestinians. And we don’t if Hamas has implicitly or explicitly signed off on a resumption of talks, which they would certainly avoid like the plague.
We do know when the talks resume — if they resume — they will involve the chief negotiators for both sides: Saeb Erekat for the Palestinians, and Tzipi Livni and Isaac Molho for the Israelis.
We also know there are reports that Martin Indyk, former U.S. ambassador to Israel, would be named U.S. envoy to the region.
That’s not a whole lot to go on, which is why we can’t even say we’re cautiously optimistic.
But cautiously pragmatic is a different animal.
By that, we simply mean it’s better for both sides to be talking instead of posturing. Especially now when the region is radically unstable — a time when Syria is gripped by civil war, when Egypt is burdened by violent street protests following a military coup, when Lebanon and Iraq face renewed sectarian violence and when Jordan is overwhelmed by waves of refugees.
At a time like this, pragmatic men (and women) should recognize that a little stability is a good thing. Peace talks, no matter how slow, difficult and frustrating, can provide a modicum of stability. They signal to allies, investors and regional populations that something is being attempted to improve the situation on the ground.
And say what you may about Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas, at the bare minimum, we believe they are pragmatic men.
Netanyahu, speaking at a Cabinet meeting Sunday, sought to assure Israelis he would not give away the store, stating his guiding principles for the talks were to maintain a Jewish majority in Israel and to avoid a future Palestinian state becoming an Iranian-backed “terror state.”
Across the Green Line, the Palestinians were merely trying to defend the basic decision to resume talks. The Times of Israel reported that P.A. Religious Endowments Minister Mahmoud al-Habbash, in a televised sermon, compared the decision to one the Prophet Mohammed made, agreeing to a 10-year truce with rivals in Mecca (the Treaty of Hudaibiya, 628 C.E.), then breaking the agreement two years later.
OK, that’s why we’re pragmatic, but why cautiously pragmatic? Because pragmatism hasn’t always won the day in the Middle East, giving way to blind passion and ill-conceived strategy.
Maybe — just maybe — this time will be different.