Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected a secret regional peace deal aimed at putting an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, according to ex-Obama administration officials. The talks, brokered by former U.S Secretary of State John Kerry, took place on Feb. 21, 2016 in Aquba, Jordan and included Netanyahu, Kerry, King Abdullah II of Jordan and President el-Sissi of Egypt. The deal called for Israel to pull out of regions occupied in 1967 and for Jerusalem to be named as a shared capital for Israelis and Palestinians alike. In exchange for this, the deal proposed Israel would be recognised by a number of Arab states as a Jewish state, a demand long insisted on by Netanyahu. Despite these efforts, Netanyahu rejected the deal claiming it would require Israel to pull out of occupied land and this in turn would never garner enough support from his right-wing coalition government.
Officials claimed the proposal was “building on” the foundation of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative and aimed to take a further step towards a viable two-state solution. Furthermore, they claimed both Egyptian and Jordanian leaders responded positively to the proposed deal, while Netanyahu was reluctant to commit to anything other than initial meetings.
The rejection of Kerry’s secret 2016 peace plan emphasised a long trend of Netanyahu’s unwillingness to compromise on both settlements and pulling out of regions Israel took in 1967 during the Six-Day War. Netanyahu has proved a constant obstacle for the Obama administration’s attempts at ceasing tension within the region, particularly with regards to the two-state solution Obama endorsed. Netanyahu became leader of the Likud party in 2005, and proceeded to be elected as Prime Minister of Israel in 2009. In 2010, he met with American President Barack Obama in Washington to discuss the possibility of restarting peace talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders. During these 2010 talks, Netanyahu agreed to a ten month freeze on construction of the West Bank settlements and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton managed to get Israeli and Palestinian leaders to the negotiating table after months of diplomacy. However, after only weeks of talks, negotiators found themselves at a stalemate and Clinton was unable to convince Netanyahu to renew the settlement freeze or convince Abbas to return to talks with the settlements off the table. Peace talks stalled, and uncertainty and unease in the region remained.
In July 2013, newly appointed Secretary of State John Kerry attempted to restart peace negotiations due to last nine months and to reach a result by mid-2014. However, much like the 2010 talks, both parties were unable to reach agreement and negotiations soon deteriorated. Frustrated, Kerry blamed the failure on the actions of both parties, but acknowledged most of the blame fell to Israel and its refusal to budge regarding the West Bank and East Jerusalem settlements. Netanyahu seemed unwilling to upset Israel’s ring-wing by halting the construction of these settlements, which in turn infuriated Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. As a result, nine months of diplomatic talks turned sour and eventually crumbled.
Kerry expressed his frustration with Netanyahu’s inability to maintain peace talks with Palestinian leaders in December, 2016, his final month of office. He stated Netanyahu’s “current coalition is the most right wing in Israeli history, with an agenda driven by its most extreme elements”. Furthermore, he claimed “The result is that policies of this government—which the prime minister himself just described as ‘more committed to settlements than any in Israel’s history’—are leading in the opposite direction, towards one state.”
With the Inauguration of newly elected President Donald Trump, the two state solution – the bedrock of the Obama administration’s Israel-Palestine policy may be abandoned, further stalling peace negotiations and potentially creating more tension within the region.
Netanyahu’s rejection of Kerry’s 2016 peace plan emphasises his unwillingness to compromise on Israel’s territorial lines and the ongoing settlement projects. Despite the efforts of the Obama administration, peace talks between Israel and Palestine have done little to ease the conflict.
Netanyahu’s stance is clear; peace will not happen unless both sides desire it.