Commentary

Bar Low for Israeli-Palestinian Talks

Middle East In Focus

Middle East In Focus

A new year has brought with it yet another attempt at bridging the gap between the Israelis and the Palestinians. This time it is Jordan that has stepped forward to bring together members of the Quartet and the Israeli and Palestinian negotiators. However, before the negotiations could even begin, all concerned parties were quick to point out that the meeting would amount to no more than a simple confidence building measure. Judging from the reaction to the announcement, it appears that the low expectations concerning the meeting are shared by more than just the politicians. In fact, there are some on both sides of the issue that believe a confrontational approach might be more productive.

The Khaleej Times editorial expresses a sentiment shared by most observers: “The first face-to-face meeting between the Palestinians and the Israelis in more than a year is a welcome development. Though both sides, meeting in Jordan, have cautioned against having expectations about the resumption of peace talks, it does signal a thawing of the months of frozen communications between the two....The only reason peace has been so elusive and a two-state solution so distant and almost impossible is because of Israel’s refusal to cede ground knowing fully well how its policy is against all norms and practices of international law and human rights. This opportunity must not be wasted and should be utilized to start sincere and committed efforts for lasting peace in the Middle East.”

Similarly, The Peninsula editorial believes the meeting is a step forward: “When the peace talks are in a state of coma, a restart itself is considered a sign of great progress. From this viewpoint, the scheduled meeting between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in Amman today needs to be welcomed by all....Though hopes are extremely low as the rivals meet, the meeting needs to focus on confidence building measures. If the talks don’t make tangible progress, which is almost a certainty, the Palestinians are expected to resume their efforts to win recognition as a state from international bodies including the UN....Palestinians need to plan their future on their own as the peace process continues to falter. Hamas and Fatah must bury their differences and stand united to strengthen their positions.”

However, as the Jordan Times editorial board suggests, many believe the onus remains on the Israeli side: “All sides know what the Palestinians want and their terms for a permanent solution. It is now Israel’s turn to spell out its position on all final status issues including borders, East Jerusalem and the return of the Palestinian refugees....As long as Israel keeps foot-dragging on the final status talks, no amount of outside pressure will be able to achieve peace, not only for Israel and the Palestinians, but also for the rest of the Middle East and beyond.”

With few exceptions, the Israeli media appears to be more concerned about a possible war in Gaza than with making any significant steps forward in Amman. For example, in an op-ed for Yedioth Ahronoth, Ron Gilran asserts Israel is “moving closer to Gaza war…. Tensions in southern Israel remain high after the Air Force targeted an Islamic Jihad cell Friday as it prepared to fire a rocket into Israel, the latest incident in a string of tit-for-tat attacks in recent days....Under these circumstances, a second Israeli operation in the Gaza Strip is inevitable....Hamas must now tread carefully to ensure that any one of the dozen splinter factions in the Strip do not engage in any sort of provocation that could drag its regime into a full confrontation with the IDF at such critical juncture. Unfortunately for Hamas, as well as the citizens of Gaza and southern Israel, the Gaza Strip remains a negligible pawn on the Middle East chessboard.”

In what can be interpreted as a message against the current efforts to restart the talks, the Jerusalem Post editorial also reflects on the anniversary of the 2008 Israeli incursion in the Gaza Strip citing the possibility “that another military incursion in Gaza would happen ‘sooner or later.’ Cracks had emerged in Israel’s deterrence … and a second round of fighting appeared to be unavoidable....Still, while a repeat of Operation Cast Lead is looking increasingly inevitable, it does not appear to be imminent. Since Cast Lead, Hamas has had a vested interest in limiting conflict with Israel. Maintaining stability and consolidating its rule in Gaza are particularly important as Hamas’s leader in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, embarks on his first fund-raising tour in the region since 2007....Palestinian could have taken advantage of their new-found autonomy in Gaza to begin the hard work of creating a Palestinian state. Instead, in a bloody coup in June 2007, Hamas ousted the corrupt, unpopular Fatah and set about creating an Islamist terrorist state that served as a launching pad for thousands of rockets and mortar shells fired at Israeli civilians in the South.”

Arutz Sheva’s David Singer expresses his lack of confidence that anything meaningful can come out of more talks with the Palestinian authority: “The real reasons for Oslo's demise are far deeper and more complex — revealing unbridgeable gaps between Israel and the PLO in reaching any agreement with regard to the following issues after failed on and off negotiations extending over the last 19 years....Little comfort can be taken from the news that the Palestinian Authority might now be prepared to resume the long stalled peace negotiations with Israel if it released 100 prisoners. The parties can talk till the cows come in. But after 19 fruitless years — can the sides to come to an agreement on all their outstanding demands?”

There are some within Israel that are calling for the peace talks to be taken seriously. Haaretz’s Merav Michaeli arguess that “Israel is missing another opportunity for peace…. Reading through the papers these days gives one a sense of déjà vu - as if we are back in 2002 and the Saudi peace initiative is being presented for the first time....An amazing historic initiative — and, seemingly, Israel's greatest dream and its perfect triumph. But the Israeli regime doesn't even respond, displaying total disregard as if the initiative never existed....The Israeli media — frighteningly institutionalized as it has always been — also almost completely ignored the Saudi initiative....Here’s another opportunity that beckons before us, right under our noses; but our noses are stuffed by the stench of political and social rot, which continues to accumulate with every passing day.”

Palestinians also seem to be divided on the best way to move forward. According to a report on the Al-Qassam website, “Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman, has urged the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah not to attend Tuesday’s meeting with Israel in Amman because the latter would be the only one benefitting from it. He said in a statement that Israel would exploit the meeting, to be attended by the international quartet committee, to polish its image that has been stained with its repeated crimes against the Palestinian people. Hamas is absolutely dismayed at the continued political meetings between the PA and Israel, the spokesman said.”

As for the stance of the Palestinian Authority, Maan News reports: “President Mahmoud Abbas will continue to try and engage Israel in peace talks….In a statement, Nabil Abu Rudaineh urged the Israeli government to announce a settlement freeze and to accept the two-state solution based on 1967 borders so talks can resume....Omar al-Ghoul, advisor to PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, told Sawa radio on Tuesday that Palestinian negotiators agreed to the meeting in Amman in order to give the Jordanian initiative a chance. The Amman talks brought together Quartet representatives, PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat and Israel's Yitzhak Molcho.”


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