Israeli-Palestinian negotiations resume

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has for over a year been publicly calling on Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to agree to resume peace talks.

However, Abbas insisted that he would not accept an invitation unless Israel first agreed to halt all settlement construction in the West Bank as well as the areas inside of Jerusalem.

After mounting external pressure, mainly by the United States, Abbas finally accepted the invitation to resume direct negotiations with Israel last month, aimed at tackling the ongoing conflict between the two peoples.

As reported by the Jerusalem Post, a Palestinian Authority official explained, “The Palestinian Authority faced unprecedented and immense pressure from the Americans and some Europeans. We were not able to resist the pressure.”

The direct talks kicked off on September 2nd in Washington, hosted by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. They were met with considerable optimism and media attention and the outcome of the initial meeting was positive, with the two sides agreeing to set biweekly meetings.

The goal of the talks is to reach a solution within 12 months covering all the core issues including security, borders, Jerusalem, settlements, refugees and water.

However, many analysts are pessimistic about the prospects of the renewed peace talks. Just as Abbas announced his intention to resume negotiations back in August, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat clarified for the Jerusalem Post that “if the Israeli government decides on September 26 to resume settlement construction there will be no talks.” Palestinian Liberation Organization committee member Hanna Amireh added that the Palestinians would pull out of the talks “even if Israel builds one house in the settlements.”

Erekat referred to September 26, the date that the Israeli ten month construction moratorium is set to expire. Since then, Abbas has repeated this threat to leave the talks unless Israel renews the settlement moratorium.

Israel, on the other hand, sees this threat as a continuation of the original precondition set by the Palestinians and continues to insist that all issues should be discussed within the framework of the talks themselves, and not as preconditions.

Dr. Barry Kay, an associate professor in Laurier’s political science department said, “Nobody has ever lost a nickel betting against a peaceful outcome in the Middle East, so expectations for this process should be guarded.”

He added, “The demonization of one’s opponent has perpetuated in this area since 1948, which is why so little has changed. I am more interested in hearing the concessions each side is prepared to make, rather than the demands.”

In recent days, the US has urged Israel to extend its construction moratorium as another goodwill gesture to the Palestinians. Both Hillary Clinton and President Barrack Obama publicly called for the move. The New York Times quoted Obama as stating that “it makes sense to extend that moratorium,” even though he acknowledged the difficult politics facing Netanyahu in Israel.

Netanyahu heads a mixed coalition, including several right-wing political parties that do not support a continuation of the moratorium and some leaders of these parties have threatened to topple the government if Netanyahu succumbs to the Palestinian precondition.

The renewed direct negotiations come at a price. The start of the talks was marked by three straight days of attacks against Israeli civilians by militants from the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas.

The terrorist attacks left four Israeli civilians murdered and three with moderate injuries. Hamas, who rules the Gaza Strip and has operatives in the West Bank, opposes any negotiations with Israel.

The New York Times reported that Ahmad Al-Jaabari, the Hamas military commander, encouraged jihad and resistance “until victory or martyrdom,” criticizing Abbas for negotiating with “the Zionist enemy.”

The talks are set to continue this week in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. Clinton will oversee the second round of talks, while each leader will meet separately with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.