As the U.S. president prepares to reinsert himself in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, his best hope may be to set aside grand hopes for a final agreement and make do with a partial deal.
An interim settlement would leave neither side with full satisfaction, and the Palestinians in particular strongly oppose it for fear that it will become permanent. But with gaps seemingly unbridgeable on the same key issues that have scuttled all previous peace efforts, a piecemeal approach may be just enough to yield a sovereign Palestinian state, albeit an imperfect one.
Barack Obama heads to the region Wednesday in a long-awaited trip whose agenda includes hopes of restarting negotiations. The White House has been careful to lower expectations, saying Obama will mainly listen and learn as he speaks to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
But U.S. officials confirm the idea of an interim agreement, while not their preference, has been under consideration. One U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly on the matter, said new Secretary of State John Kerry “is looking for options on a way forward” and that an interim arrangement has been among several ideas being explored.
“The challenge of diplomacy is to try and find areas where progress can be made, and not always try and seek a complete solution when one is not in the cards at present,” said Dore Gold, a former Israeli ambassador to the U.N. who has served as an informal adviser to Netanyahu.
The Palestinians will be a hard sell. They want a state in all of the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, territories captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war. From their perspective to suffice with that territory — leaving Israel with over three-quarters of what was British-ruled Palestine until 1948 — is compromise enough.
“If Israel was serious it would have offered a solution based on the two states, but Israel wants to annex Jerusalem and large parts of the West Bank by such an offer,” said Ahmad Majdalani, a member of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization.