Friday, September 03, 2010

Cautious optimism about the Israel-PA talks

From The Australian, September 3, 2010, by Colin Rubenstein, executive director of the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council:

YESTERDAY in Washington, President Barack Obama formally launched the resumption of direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians   ...International expectations for the talks are low because there appear to be a number of factors that make peace breakthroughs seem unlikely. Yet other factors offer room for cautious optimism for modest progress.

On the negative side, Abbas was essentially dragged to the table under pressure - despite a previous 18 years of near continuous Israeli-Palestinian direct engagement...

Abbas's ability to make a final deal stick is also in doubt. He certainly cannot claim to make commitments on behalf of the Palestinians of Gaza... But even in the West Bank, Abbas's ability to bring the population with him is unclear. First, his original term in office expired last year, and thanks to the split with Hamas, no new elections have been held.

...anti-Israel and anti-Jewish incitement in Palestinian media and schoolbooks remains a constant problem.  ...the incessant encouragement of hero-worship for Palestinian "martyrs" who committed terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians, do not encourage support for peacemaking.

...Meanwhile, according to polls, the Israeli public overwhelmingly wants a negotiated, peaceful resolution of the conflict that ends in two viable states -and this is now the publicly stated position of all Israel's three major parties.

On the Palestinian side, there are also positive factors.  ...the past few years have seen the West Bank flourishing economically. Hopefully, it has been demonstrated to Palestinians that when they pursue peace with Israel, their economy, freedom of movement and wellbeing improve dramatically...

Admittedly, it is hard to envisage a deal on all the elements of what a final peace would require - especially Jerusalem, refugees, and recognition of Israel as the state of the Jewish people. On the other hand, some sort of incremental agreement on West Bank borders and security arrangements looks plausible, according to most experts.

Thus the key to a more optimistic outlook on the renewed talks is for the parties and Washington to take advantage of the positives. The talks cannot be an all-or-nothing effort to reach a final deal - they must break the problem up into "bite-size pieces". For instance, there are certainly synergies between Netanyahu's ideas about building peace "from the bottom up", Fayyad's efforts at state-building and the call in the 2003 roadmap for peace for a transitional stage involving a "Palestinian state with provisional borders".

Despite the obstacles, there is a great deal that can be discussed positively - if the talks are approached with balanced perceptions of regional realities, realism, good will and creativity.
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