Commentary

Peace Talks Restart Amid Skepticism

Middle East In Focus

Middle East Policy Council

This week marks the official restart of the negotiations between Israel and Palestine. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has made the Israeli-Palestinian peace process a centerpiece of his diplomatic activities and it appears as if his efforts and repeated visits have not been entirely wasted. There is deep skepticism and even condemnation, however, from both sides of the conflict, with very few regional observers holding out hope that the negotiations will produce a mutually acceptable outcome, or that the sacrifices required to get there will have been worth it.

The Palestinians seem unmoved by the prospects of new peace talks, with some expressing concern that they will be ultimately blamed for what they see as the inevitable collapse of the peace process. For example, Maan News' Ramzy Baroud takes aim at "political peddlers, think-tank experts and media professionals," cautioning that the peace process "will come to an abrupt ending followed by a protracted blame game. Knowing how mainstream western media operates, Palestinians will likely be the party responsible for the failure of the talks that are yet to start....All three parties know this very well, but they are willing to return to the negotiations table. Any table will do while they pause for photos, smile and shake hands over and over. By doing so, a media circus made of experts will resume, are ready with metaphors, cliches and sound bites, as long as they are crammed into 30 seconds or less."

The return to the negotiation table has also been opposed by various political parties, including the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) which, according to an AFP report "rejected new peace talks with Israel just hours before their scheduled resumption in Washington on Monday after a three-year break. The leftist PFLP, a major faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said that talks' resumption was a unilateral move by President Mahmoud Abbas which did not have the backing of the PLO as a whole....'The PFLP is against a return to negotiations,' said one of the party's leaders, Khalida Jarrar. 'It is an individual move,' she said, in allusion to Abbas.'These talks will be presided over by the United States, just like Oslo 20 years ago,' she said of the negotiations that led up to the 1993 accords for limited self-rule. 'We went to the UN precisely to take our case out of U.S. hands.'"

A similar reaction, but for very different reasons, has been coming from some Israelis, where, as Arutz Sheva's Elad Benari writes, some Israeli government officials have condemned their government's decision to release over 100 Palestinian prisoners: "Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz (Likud) was skeptical on Monday that the latest round of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority would lead to any results, as Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and attorney Yitzchak Molcho arrived in Washington to begin the talks. 'Our partners are vile people,' Katz told Channel 2 News. 'They do not really come in order to start with a clean slate.' 'The education system in the PA calls for hatred of Jews, for our extinction. It starts there at a very young age and everyone knows this,' he added. 'I support dialogue but oppose preconditions. I see the release of murderous terrorists as a precondition.'"

The right-leaning Jerusalem Post editorial also disagrees with the Israeli government's decision to go forward with the release of the prisoners, arguing that such a deal is 'too high a price' to pay, especially since there is no guarantee the Palestinians will reciprocate the good will shown: "the agreement to release 104 terrorists at such an early stage seems premature. Actual negotiations have not even begun and even the 'contours and modalities' of the future talks have yet to be hammered out. Based on the track record for past talks, there is a good chance that terrorists will be released for naught. Freeing these hardcore convicts should come, if ever, at the end of the peace process when the Palestinians have agreed to live in peace alongside a Jewish state....Resuming negotiations toward a two-state solution is no more an Israeli interest than it is a Palestinian interest. Israel should not have been forced to pay such a hefty price, nor should it have agreed to do so."

This pessimism is further exacerbated by what many believe is a long history of failed efforts at coming to a peaceful resolution of the conflict and the lack of a viable Palestinian partner. In an op-ed for the daily Yedioth Ahronoth, Noah Klieger takes this point further, wondering what Hamas' response will be should Abbas agree to a deal with the Israelis: "let's just assume (theoretically, of course) that there will be some movement in the stance of our Palestinian 'partner.' So what will we do with the other side of the Palestinians? After all, Hamas in Gaza has already declared that it has nothing to do with those talks with Israel…. Moreover, allow me to remind you that discussions about the 1967 borders are nothing more than fiction. In 1967 the Palestinians had no territories at all, and so they didn't have any borders either. The Gaza Strip belonged to Egypt and the West Bank to Jordan. Now they are demanding territories which were taken from them in 1949 by their brothers. Fine, so we'll hold talks. But what about the results? Just the same as in the previous times."

However, there are some who hold out hope that some good might come from this round of negotiations. In an op-ed for the business daily The Globes (Israel), Jack Hougy dismisses complaints that Israel has no reliable partner, pointed out that the Palestinian president "Abu Mazen is the best possible partner…. Netanyahu has found in Ramallah the most moderate Palestinian partner he could ask for. The Palestinian Authority in the era of Abbas is a stable regime. The Palestinian security forces are the strongest power in the cities and villages of the West Bank, not Hamas or Islamic Jihad. Abbas will enjoy industrial quiet from the direction of his rival in Gaza. Hamas, notwithstanding its condemnations of negotiations with Israel, will not stand in his way if he reaches a peace agreement....Abbas, in contrast to his predecessor Yasser Arafat, does not threaten Israel with violence if it does not act as expected of it."

Finally, in an article by Nidal Foqaha and Gadi Baltiansky, the director generals of the Geneva Initiative in Ramallah and Tel Aviv, respectively, the authors make the argument that a peace deal between the two sides is vital for both parties: "The term 'win win' does not exist in Hebrew or Arabic. However, the opposite term, 'zero sum game,' does exist and is even popular. Now, when talks between Israelis and Palestinians are resumed, not only language needs to be reinvented, but also the thinking patterns that were acceptable so far in negotiations....Theoretically, the existing conditions – recognizing the future agreement and understanding the danger of its alternatives - should lead to successful negotiations. Along with American involvement, the regional contribution of the Arab world and the international interest there is a reason for optimism."


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Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: http://mepc.org/articles-commentary/articles-hub. Comments and feedback are welcome at info@mepc.org.