Recent Israel/Palestine peace talks doomed to fail

After just a month of talks between Israel and the Palestinians in the renewed direct negotiations, the peace process is once again on the brink of collapse. Despite the exaggerated media attention, this round of talks was doomed before it even began.

The direct negotiations resumed in Washington on Sept. 2, with the usual hype and unreasonable expectations. Despite the fact that there is currently no unified Palestinian leadership capable of representing the Palestinian people in a peace agreement, U.S. President Barack Obama made Israeli-Palestinian peace one of the top priorities of his administration upon coming into office in 2009.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas rules the West Bank, but no longer has any control or presence in the Gaza Strip, where the terrorist organization Hamas took over in a violent coup in 2007. The Gaza Strip is home to approximately 1.5 million Palestinians, around the same as the number of Palestinians living in the West Bank.

In the event of a peace agreement with Israel, Abbas would have no authority to enforce peace in the Gaza Strip. Hamas has repeatedly denounced any negotiations or compromise with Israel, instead insisting on continuing terrorist attacks as part of its ultimate goal of destroying the State of Israel and liberating what it calls Palestine, from the Jordan river to the Mediterranean sea.

Khaled Abu Toameh, the West Bank and Gaza correspondent for the Jerusalem Post who spoke at Laurier last year, commented that many people are ignoring the facts on the ground, “namely that a radical, Iranian-funded Islamist state already exists, and it is in the Gaza Strip. It would have been more useful for the peace process had Washington demanded that Abbas find a solution to the split between the West Bank and Gaza Strip before dragging him to the negotiating table.”

Instead, Obama insisted on pressing the issue of resuming peace talks that have no potential for success, and the media ate it up. The timing is perfect with American midterm elections coming up in November. Finally, Obama has something to validate the Nobel Peace Prize for which he was nominated just 12 days after the start of his term as President.

In reality, Obama’s push has not led to any progress between the two sides. Although he did manage to coerce Abbas into accepting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s repeated calls for resuming negotiations, the talks themselves have not seen any breakthroughs and after just one month they are already at an impasse.

For nearly two years, Netanyahu expressed his desire to return to the negotiating table, but Abbas refused unless Israel would succumb to the precondition of halting all settlement construction. This includes the neighborhoods of Jerusalem, Israel’s capital, that Israel captured from Jordan in the Six Day War of 1967 and the Palestinians consider occupied territory. When Netanyahu announced a voluntary ten-month settlement moratorium in the West Bank in November 2009 as a goodwill gesture, Abbas still refused to negotiate because the freeze did not include Jerusalem.

With the moratorium set to expire on Sept. 26, 2010, Abbas finally gave in to American pressure in late August and entered the negotiations knowing that he only had to last one month before he could quit the talks and attempt to lay blame on Israel.

Sept. 26 has come and gone, and the settlement moratorium is over. As construction plans begin to roll in, the talks have all but died as the Obama administration attempts fiercely to draft some sort of compromise. The Arab League recently announced that they support Abbas’ decision to quit the talks, but also agreed to grant Obama one month to reach an agreement that will allow the negotiations to continue.

The timing seems all too convenient; in one month, the U.S. midterm elections will be over and Obama can give up on forcing the issue that he knows has no chance of succeeding. It’s all a game of politics, and the only losers are the innocent civilians who will be inevitably killed in terrorist attacks that always increase in frequency upon the collapse of peace talks. According to Toameh, “If people are forced into peace negotiations, there are explosive issues that can’t be resolved and it could end with a third intifada.”

If the peace talks continue to be defined by the Palestinians demanding concessions from the Israelis with nothing to offer in return and if the Palestinian leadership refuses to budge on the most basic issues such as recognition of the Jewish State, there is no hope for a solution. After all, the most fundamental principle behind negotiation is compromise.