Where Is The Peace Process Going?
Commentary by Sarah Ann Haves
Growing U.S. pressure on the Palestinians to enter into direct talks with Israel has led to a scheduled meeting of Arab League foreign ministers, set to take place in Cairo, on Thursday, July 29, 2010. The Arab League is expected to decide, at that time, whether to approve a direct meeting between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in order to advance the peace process.
It’s probable that the Arab League will continue to use Abbas as their mouthpiece, demanding that Israel meet certain conditions before the Palestinians can enter into direct talks. The demands are based on directives spelled out in the Arab Peace Initiative, introduced by Saudi Arabia in 2002. This initiative continues to be the driving force among Arab states that are seeking an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But, Israel says the demands do not allow Israel to maintain defensible borders.
STALLING THE PROCESS
Meanwhile, the Arab League and the Palestinians may find it advantageous to continue to use stall tactics, hoping to delay the initiation of direct talks until September, in order to stir up a political crisis within the Netanyahu government. September is the time when Netanyahu and his inner cabinet must decide if Israel will renew the settlement construction moratorium that officially ends on September 26th or, allow construction companies to begin building again in the territories. Currently, the Netanyahu government is divided over the issue, as coalition leaders that are both “for” and “against” the settlement freeze have threatened to quit the government if their demands are not met.
Since Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama met at the White House in early July, there has been no real advancement of the peace process, despite continued American pressure to move towards direct talks. Abbas, along with Fatah members of his government, have continually insisted that Israel deal with core issues, such as defining the borders and security of a Palestinian state. They want to see progress before advancing the talks. Israel wants the Palestinians to come to the table without these pre-conditions. The stalemate continues.
So far, the inability for Obama to successfully deal with Palestinian intransigence has led some Jewish leaders to conclude that American influence is diminishing, which inevitably puts more pressure on Israel. Behind the scenes, Arab officials are looking to the U.S. for assurances that Israel will start direct talks where they left off during the previous Israeli administration, under the direction of former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Olmert had agreed to an Israeli withdrawal from most of the West Bank (Judea and Samaria), with land swaps included. He was also willing for Israel to share control of East Jerusalem neighborhoods with the Palestinians. And he called for the initiation of an international body to oversee the Old City holy sites. Peace talks between Olmert and Abbas broke down even before Olmert resigned from the premiership due to allegations against him of financial corruption.
NEGOTIATING THROUGH THE MEDIA
During this current season of indirect proximity talks between Abbas and Netanyahu, there has been a new kind of peace negotiating… that is, through public statements made to the global media. Abbas has continually reminded the international community of what his expectations are of Israel, outlining Palestinian “red lines”. He has held back all efforts to advance the peace process until the Israeli government shows a willingness to meet his demands. Netanyahu, on the other hand, has not been willing to publicly offer many details concerning Israel’s “red lines”, even though he has done extensive interviews with media outlets.
THE REAL INTENTIONS OF THE PALESTINIANS
Presently, an increasing number of Israelis are showing signs of deep skepticism concerning Palestinian intentions towards peace. Some analysts believe that the current Palestinian leadership, both in the West Bank and Gaza are adhering to existing charters and doctrines, which call for a single state of Palestine that would encompass all of Israel.
Even with the Israeli unilateral withdrawal from Gaza five years ago, the current Hamas leadership in Gaza has done nothing to make it easier for local Palestinians. Hamas keeps many Palestinians languishing in refuge camps, highlighting this “eye sore”, so that the international community will fund UN coffers and send the money to Hamas. The Palestinian leadership in both the West Bank and Gaza want these “refugees” to be included in any peace deal with Israel, demanding that they have a right to return to Israel, rather than to a Palestinian state. Israel will not agree to such demands, citing that this would threaten the Jewish majority population in Israel. This has been one of the sticking points in the current Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
One of Israel’s frustrations with the Obama Administration has been the constant pressure on Israel for greater confidence-building measures (i.e. Israeli concessions). Recently, there’s been a more vocal voice among Jewish leaders in Israel for a call to genuine reciprocity, where it is not only Israel making concessions to the Palestinians, but vice versa. One of the ways the Palestinians have been called on to show reciprocity is in toning down the continued incitement against Israel - in speeches by Moslem leaders to the local Arab population; in schools; in the media; and through international bodies like the UN, human rights forums, etc.
HOW ISRAELIS SEE PEACE DEVELOPING
A recent peace index indicates that most of the Israeli public thinks U.S. President Obama favors the Palestinians. Also, a majority of Israelis support renewed construction in the West Bank after the settlement moratorium is over on September 26. They believe that continuing the moratorium would play into the hands of American and Palestinian negotiators.
Among Israelis, there’s major support for continuing the peace negotiations with the Palestinians, but few believe that the talks will lead to a peace treaty. This has been the prevailing mood in Israel since the Oslo Accords were signed 17 years ago. Most Israelis have not been in favor of the indirect proximity talks currently taking place between Israel and the Palestinians, and a majority of the public wants to see the negotiations move to direct talks.
AMERICAN PROMISES TO ISRAEL – ARE THEY REALLY HELPFUL?
Israelis hear over and over again about America’s commitment to Israel’s security interests. The Obama Administration has pointed out, time and again, that it is committed to Israel’s qualitative military edge in the Middle East, giving examples of unprecedented strategic cooperation between the two allies.
While these statements are practically true, Israelis are beginning to question the intent of Obama’s determination to maintain Israel’s military edge over its enemies in the region. Some Israelis point out that Obama is also expecting Israel to take increased risks to accommodate Palestinian demands on the diplomatic front. The concluding analysis is that this leads Israel to risk its security interests at the peace negotiating table, instead of on the battlefield.
One example of where this could become dangerous for Israel in the future has to do with negotiating the parameters of a Palestinian state. Abbas has demanded that there be no Israeli presence on the eastern border of a future state of Palestine, and he has pressed for an international force to be deployed there, instead. In that way, he reasons, Israel will get its security needs met, and the Palestinians will retain sovereignty over their state.
However, for Israel, this is a risk that is too great for compromise. Netanyahu has insisted that there must be an Israeli presence on the eastern border of a future Palestinian state, at least initially, because international forces cannot insure Israel’s security in the Jordan Valley region.
There is an increased concern in Israel that the U.S. may link Israel’s unwillingness to take risks in the peace process to how much of an on-going commitment America is willing to make towards Israel on a military level. Israelis reason that only time will tell how genuine Obama’s commitment to Israel really is. At this point, only 10% of the population believes that Obama is pro-Israel. In order for the general public to have increased confidence in the U.S. president and his administration, he will need to continue increased military cooperation with Israel, while at the same time, not expect Israel to sacrifice its security interests at the peace table.
TOWARDS A LASTING PEACE
In the meantime, the peace process continues to defy all projected time tables, and the lack of progress continues to be a frustration for all those countries that have based their foreign policy initiatives on seeing this conflict end. America, and other nations, would be well advised to stop putting such emphasis and time into solving the conflict, and leave it up to the Israeli and Palestinian communities to narrow the gaps on their own. There is little hope that a lasting peace can endure without the development of mutual trust between these two people groups, as they attempt to resolve the many problems involved in living together in this complex region of the world.
“Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” John 14:27
Ms. Haves is a news analyst, reporting from Israel on political, diplomatic, military and spiritual issues affecting the nation.
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