What's Israel's Plan B as Peace Talks Look Doomed?

Annexation, Unilateral Action, Status Quo Have Drawbacks

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By Nathan Guttman and Nathan Jeffay

Published April 10, 2014, issue of April 18, 2014.

What’s the fallback plan?

That’s the question increasingly on the minds of Middle East policymakers and analysts as Secretary of State John Kerry struggles to save the Israeli-Palestinian peace process from collapse.

For the Palestinians, the path forward in the event of a collapse is clear: They will seek international recognition as a state in the Israeli-occupied West Bank for their government, and perhaps recognition, too, of their jurisdiction over Gaza, which is currently ruled by the rival Palestinian faction Hamas.

But for the United States and Israel, the search for a “Plan B” is considerably more complicated. The spectrum of ideas in Israel ranges from partial annexation of the West Bank to simply maintaining the status quo, with many other possibilities in between. But for America, none of the options is welcome.

“What Kerry is doing now is already Plan B,” said Aaron David Miller, a former senior government peace negotiator who now serves as vice president of the Wilson Center, a nonpartisan Washington think tank. Kerry, Miller explained, has already fallen back from his original plan to broker a final peace accord by the end of April into a less-ambitious attempt to bring about a framework agreement. He is now struggling just to get the two sides to agree to extend talks about such a framework agreement beyond the end-of-April deadline.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration is preparing to deal with the fallout if Kerry’s effort fails. On the international front, the administration is determined to block Palestinian attempts to win statehood through recognition by international organizations. But America could find itself in a tougher position than it was in two years ago, when it mobilized European allies to block the Palestinian drive for statehood. Back then, the administration argued that such recognition would upend the ongoing peace process.

Domestically, the administration is also gearing up to halt congressional sanctions against both the Palestinians and the international organizations that choose to recognize Palestinian statehood.

A 2011 law already requires termination of all American assistance to the Palestinians if they gain statehood. But lawmakers on Capitol Hill have now begun calling for cutting U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority in response to the P.A.’s more modest request to join 15 international treaties.



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