Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman and this is The World. You know the saying "you can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink." That old saw was just used by a frustrated Secretary of State John Kerry. He was talking about a crisis in peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. The World's Matthew Bell is here to bring us up to speed. What is the latest, Matthew?
Matthew Bell: The Israelis now say that they will not release a group of prisoners, 26 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, and that is because they say that the Palestinians went against an agreement and they went to the United Nations and signed 15 conventions and treaties to bolster their status as a non-member independent state at the United Nations. The Palestinians say that the Israelis were dragging their feet on this prisoner release, that they didn't live up to their side of the agreement. The Palestinians also point to a recent announcement for new settlements in East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians want as their capital one day. Essentially things have broken down into mutual recrimination and a real blame game here for this latest crisis in the Middle East peace process.
Werman: One link in the chain breaks down and so do a whole line of concessions from both sides. Middle East peace has been an important foreign policy goal for the Obama administration. What has the US response been to this?
Bell: John Kerry has been at it for 8 months. He's been going back to the region dozens of times. We've heard the frustration in that comment today about leading a horse to water. He said "look, it's time to drink." There was a quote in a recent report saying that the United States hasn't quite reached the point yet but it's getting closer to the point of just saying "listen, don't call us until you're ready to sit down and do some business here." The White House today said that clearly this is a challenge, the breakdown over the prisoner issue, but they're also trying to put a positive spin on it in saying that the dialogue remains open, that there is a possible way forward.
Werman: Why does the United States have to be the body in charge of the peace process? Can the road map work with the UN leading the way?
Bell: Well, the United States, for a long time, has held the position that the only way to solve this conflict once and for all and bring an end to it is for the two parties themselves, the Israelis and the Palestinians, to sit down in a bilateral fashion and sign an agreement and reach the end of this long peace process. Now, it's important to understand that President Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian authority, is not very popular. The peace process itself among the Palestinians is also not very popular, there's a real sense of skepticism about this ever bearing any positive results. It seems that Abbas is really trying to get some popular support by following this second track, if you will, at the United Nations and seeking international recognition, that even if the peace process doesn't seem to be bearing results, this is a way to bolster his position politically at home.
Werman: The window for these current talks ends at the end of April. We're in April, it doesn't sound very hopeful.
Bell: That is true. There's a lot of frustration on all sides. On the other hand, there's a couple of things that haven't changed. Number one is the Palestinian authority is financially heavily dependent on $500 million in US funding. If they completely walk away from the table and try to go to this United Nations and international route for recognition, that money could potentially disappear. President Abbas is going to think twice before he makes that decision. On the Israeli side, the United States is still Israel's most important ally.
Even someone like Benjamin Netanyahu who has a governing coalition, including people from the right wing who are vehemently opposed to the peace process and the creation of a Palestinian state, he's going to think twice about going against a top priority from the American administration. Over the years, there's been many moments like this where we've talked about "is this the nail in the coffin for the peace process?" Lo and behold, the parties walk back, things get started again because the alternatives are so much worse.
Werman: The World's Matthew Bell, thanks so much for the update.
Bell: Thanks Marco.