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Boston College Expert: Middle East Peace Talks

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Peter Krause
Assistant Professor of Political Science
office: 617.552.0759
cell: 617-595-8690
Faculty website


Krause's research and writing focuses on international security, Middle East politics, non-state violence, and national movements. Krause has conducted extensive fieldwork throughout the Middle East over the past five years and has published articles on the effectiveness of non-state violence, U.S. intervention in the Syrian civil war, the politics of division within the Palestinian national movement, the war of ideas in the Middle East, and a reassessment of U.S. operations at Tora Bora in 2001. Among his publications is “Intervention in Syria: Reconciling Moral Premises and Realistic Outcomes,” (with Eva Bellin, Middle East Brief, June 2012).

Secretary of State John Kerry is back in the Mideast today, practicing shuttle diplomacy as he flies between Jerusalem and Ramallah in an attempt to jump start talks that have seen no progress since they resumed in July. If a Mideast deal is going to happen, the U.S. has to show both sides “tough love” and not allow business as usual, says one expert on the Middle East.

“If this is going to be business as usual, what’s going to happen is the U.S. is going to make a couple of proposals, they’re going to give some small incentives to each side here, say a little something about Israel building settlements there, and honestly negotiations aren’t going to go anywhere,” says Boston College Political Science Assistant Professor Peter Krause, Ph.D. “The current situation is one in which successful negotiations are quite unlikely. There’s a massive power imbalance between the two sides and mountains of mistrust, and unless the U.S. is going to put in significant, significant effort to try and frame a deal and potentially push the parties towards it, it’s unlikely anything is going to happen here.”

Professor Krause says one of the impediments could be the issue of linkage, especially in the wake of the interim deal on Iran’s nuclear capabilities, an agreement that Israel says is an “historic mistake.”

“The U.S. previously pushed linkage with the Israelis saying, ‘Look, to the extent that you want cooperation on Israeli-Palestinian matters or Iranian matters, you kind of need to play ball on the other end,’ and the Israelis largely rejected that,” says Dr. Krause, who has visited the region several times, including this past summer, as part of his research for an upcoming book.“They said, ‘Look, we see the Iranian deal as a potential existential threat, we see the elimination of their nuclear capability as a necessity, and we don’t see having to make any concessions on Israeli-Palestinian matters as necessitating action on the Iranian front.’ What’s interesting now is because of the interim deal with the Iranians, the Israelis might potentially see linkage, although not necessarily in the way the U.S. wants in the sense of, ‘OK, we don’t really like the deal you’ve made with the Iranians so we’re definitely not in a great mood to make any concessions on the Palestinian front. In fact, you might have to assuage us on that. And oh by the way, if you ever want a real final status deal with the Palestinians, we need to be reassured on Iran.’”

Then there’s the ever present issue of the settlements, which Dr. Krause says will continue to be a significant sticking point in the negotiations.

“Kerry has said the settlements are illegitimate, but if the U.S. doesn’t do much more than make a couple of statements about it, it’s just going to be business as usual. That’s what U.S. administrations have done for a while,” continues Dr. Krause. “From the Palestinian standpoint, they see a Palestinian state being based largely in the West Bank, so to have continued Israeli construction in the territory that they want for their state is something that makes no sense to them, but also makes it very difficult for them to tell their population that the Israelis are serious about a deal. Instead, it’s the opposite, it undercuts their legitimacy. It makes the P.A. even less popular than it already is. On the Israeli side, the continued building of settlements is precisely the step that keeps much of Netanyahu's base quiet about negotiations that they oppose. If/when settlement construction stops, you will see much more opposition to the negotiations from the Israelis."

While Secretary of State Kerry tries to work with both sides, the European Union is threatening to pull funding from the Palestinian Authority if peace talks fail. If the U.S. asserts the same kind of “tough love” to both sides, that would mark a departure from “business as usual”, according to Dr. Krause.

“Would the U.S. think about pulling support for the Palestinian Authority if a deal doesn’t happen, if the P.A. doesn’t toe the line on making some of the concessions they need to make or show they can deliver a deal with their base? Would the U.S. turn to engaging other potential leaders from Palestinian civil society?” asks Professor Krause. “Same with the Israelis – if the Israeli leadership isn’t really doing more than rhetorically saying they want a two-state solution, but at the end of the day continuing the settlements at an even higher rate, basically pursuing control of the West Bank in various ways – would the U.S. publicly criticize the Israeli leadership or lessen certain types of economic support? Absent these or other changes, it’s business as usual and the negotiations are likely to fail. We have many, many precedents for that.”

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Sean Hennessey
Associate Director
Office of News and Public Affairs
Boston College

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