New Israeli-Palestinian peace-talks can they deliver?
The short answer is: probably not. At least not in the short run.
After a nearly a year of constant prodding and numerous trips by US officials, Israelis and Palestinians have finally agreed to resume peace-talks. These are not real negotiations however, but indirect talks with US mediators (most likely President Obama?s Special Envoy George Mitchell) shuttling between the parties in Jerusalem and Ramallah with proposals. Since this set-up is a step back to the kind of talks that the parties had before a more solid peace-process came about after the Oslo-agreements, it is a tell-tale sign of how deep the mistrust and resentment between the parties has gone. Peace-talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians have been in the deep-freeze since the Gaza war a year ago and the truth is that no one really believes any progress will come out of these talks.
Both sides have pre-conditions ? which they admittedly have set aside, for now at least ? that make progress even less likely. Even though both sides have signed on to the two-state solution, the way to achieve this and the end-goal of what a Palestinian state should look like, is still issues where there is no agreement. The Israeli government with Premier Netanyahu insists on a de-militarized state and with Israeli presence on its future eastern border to prevent imports of weapons and rockets that could endanger Israeli towns and cities. Both are conditions that no Palestinian administration could conceivably agree to. As for the Palestinian government under President Abbas, his insistence on a total settlement.-freeze before any final agreement could be signed is going nowhere. The fact that Abbas has agreed to even indirect talks without that condition being fulfilled leaves him in a vulnerable position vis-�-vis his own constituency. On the very same day that talks were announced, the Israeli government approved new settlements on the occupied West Bank, thus adding to the already tense situation. And a few days later, when US Vice President Joe Biden came visiting, Israel?s Interior Minister ? Eli Yishai ? announced approved plans for 1600 new housing units in East Jerusalem, a clear snub to the Obama administration. In a response to these developments the Palestinian chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat accused the Netanyahu government of not being serious in its insistence of a two-state solution. He also said that this was the last chance of achieving a two-state solution and if the talks failed, the only option left would be to insist on a shared state, a sure non-starter with the Israelis.
A lot of all this is of course posturing, making political noises ahead of real negotiations that are probably likely to come. But such negotiations will not come as a result of the newly launched talks set to begin later this month. The US proposal of setting the parameters or outline of a permanent agreement and save some of the more difficult issues ? such as Jerusalem and refugees for later ? might work, but it will not happen before the 4 months set up as a target-date have passed.
The real challenge will be when the talks ?fail? without delivering an agreement. For the Palestinians the fact that Abbas and his government is not controlling a large chunk of what will constitute the future Palestine ? Gaza ? is a long-term impediment to any long-term solution. And as long as the conflict between Fatah and Hamas is unresolved, whatever agreement is signed, a Palestinian government will not be able to deliver.
The US hope is that by locking the partners into a plan that clearly states that the long-term goal is a two-state solution and an end-of conflict agreement, it will be possible to handle the foreseeable obstacles in the negotiations regarding the ?core?-issues such as Jerusalem and refugees. And by tying this long-term plan to the successful Dayton-mission and Palestinian Premier Fayyad?s plans for a civil Palestinian infrastructure, it is further hoped that this time around, real progress can be achieved further down the road, even if there is no permanent end-of conflict agreement at the end of the present round of indirect talks.