On Sunday, January 2, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered to have continuous one-on-one talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on the "core" issues, including the status of Jerusalem and final borders, until they are all resolved.
You may recall that the two parties met in September for three weeks but the talks ended when Mr. Netanyahu refused to extend the 10-month moratorium on construction in the West Bank because he could not do so without the support of his Cabinet. If he had extended the moratorium, his government would have collapsed and the talks would have ended anyway.
For three weeks in November and December, the Obama Administration failed to cajole Mr. Netanyahu, particularly his Cabinet, to recommence the construction moratorium for a 90-day period with offers that included fighter jets. In Mr. Netanyahu’s announcement yesterday, he did not offer to meet Mr. Abbas' insistence that Israel recommence the moratorium, but stated his belief that the parties would know very quickly if they could reach final agreement on the "core" issues.
Let me suggest the following. Israel should recommence the moratorium, thereby meeting Mr. Abbas' condition for commencing talks. As he did in September, Mr. Abbas would insist that the moratorium be maintained as a condition for continuing talks. Here is the new tack by Israel: Israel should declare that it will maintain the moratorium only for as long as talks continue. The Palestinians see the moratorium as a condition for talking, while the Israelis must insist that the talking is a condition for the moratorium. If the talks stop, the moratorium ceases.
Obviously, the talks may be suspended while the parties confer internally, or externally with other countries. And the talks may need to be suspended for reasons of illness, death in the family, political crises, natural disasters, etc. To accommodate this need, I would propose that either side could suspend the face-to-face talks for up to 30 days. Mr. Abbas' failure to appear by the 30th day would end the talks and end the construction moratorium.
To continue the moratorium, Israel would not insist on the subjective criterion that the talks "show progress." Meeting face-to-face would be sufficient and objective. Sure, Mr. Abbas (or Mr. Netanyahu) could game this situation by meeting face-to-face but not making progress and not reaching agreement. The burden of continuing the moratorium, however, would be on Mr. Abbas. He would have to show up at least once every 30 days.
Mr. Thunder was a member of a small team that successfully negotiated the 1987 amendments to the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement of 1978 between the United States and Canada.