For years, Palestinian leadership has denounced Israeli leadership for continuing to build settlements beyond the infamous Green Line. The cries were answered early Friday morning, as an unnamed senior Israeli official stated that Israel will stop building settlements in an effort to resume peace negotiations. Although the decision was made, it has been kept behind closed doors and will be conducted covertly by the Israeli government. The implications of this decision are great, as now pressure is placed on the Palestinian leadership to act. If they fail to respond to Israel’s attempt to negotiate, Palestinian credibility will be tarnished and future negotiations will be even more difficult to initiate.
The Netanyahu coalition government has incurred endless criticism on this issue from the international community and internal opposition. Some reports even mentioned that President Obama had to persuade President Mahmoud Abbas not to take Israel to the International Criminal Court last year. However, now that Netanyahu has backed down from his stance and decided to cease settlement construction, the pressure is now on President Abbas to act; and if he does not it will damage the Palestinian cause.
For years Abbas has contested that settlement construction is a roadblock to peace; recently he has stated that he would not even start negotiations until all construction was halted. Now that Netanyahu has met this precondition Abbas must capitalize on this opportunity, unlike past Palestinian leaders like Yasser Arafat who hurt their credibility by refusing to commit to the peace process. If Abbas decides to sidestep this opportunity the Palestinian Cause will take a great hit to its credibility, as this has been the paramount issue that has kept Palestinian Leadership from negotiating with Israelis.
Most of the credit for this surprising decision goes to Secretary of State John Kerry and the United States leadership. Wrapping up a Middle East tour this week, Kerry met with both sides and appears to have convinced Netanyahu to make the first move toward peace. One development that complicates the situation is the absence of the reasonable former Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. Without his presence, the actions of Hamas and Abbas are nearly unpredictable as it is still unclear whether the two will unite and which party will take the lead for the Palestinian people. Although surprising, this does give Israeli leadership credibility as true partners for peace. It is now up to Abbas and Hamas to conjure up a response to Israel’s olive branch.