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Hopes slim for Israel-Palestine peace talks

Update: August, 02/2013 - 07:09

Chu Lan Huong

A Palestinian protester throws back a tear-gas canister fired by Israeli security forces during clashes following a demonstration against the expropriation of Palestinian land by Israel in the village of Kfar Qaddum, near Nablus, in the occupied West Bank. — afp/vna Photo

For many years the global community has been hoping for a peaceful end to the Palestine-Israel conflict, so when both sides held their first peace negotiations after nearly three years of deadlock many people across the world breathed a sigh of relief.

This latest move is seen as a positive signal for the Middle East peace process, after 20 years of on-and-off negotiations.

US Secretary of State John Kerry can claim that a return to the peace talks is a diplomatic coup for him after making six trips to the region in the last four months.

After two days of closed-door meetings in Washington DC, the negotiators have set an ambitious goal of reaching an elusive peace deal within nine months, despite warnings of the obstacles and provocations that lie ahead.

Before their departure for Washington, both sides expressed determination and hopes that the new talks would prove beneficial.

Israel's chief negotiator Tzipi Livni was quoted by Reuters as saying "cautiously, but also with hope".

Meanwhile, Hanan Ashrawi, a Palestinian spokeswoman, quoted by Al-Jazeera news agency, said that the talks were being held under more difficult conditions than any previous negotiations had to endure.

She cited the Palestinian political split, with Western-backed moderate Abbas and the Islamic militant Hamas running rival governments in the West Bank and Gaza, as well as the more hawkish positions of Netanyahu compared to his predecessor.

"But I think there is a recognition of the need for urgency," she said. "If we don't move fast and decisively, things could fall apart."

On the streets of Israel and the West Bank, hope was mixed with scepticism.

"I believe it's time to give it (the negotiations) a chance and to try again," Tel Aviv resident Eliot Diamant told AFP news agency.

Another city resident, Eliezer Zaiger said he believed the negotiations won't benefit Israel.

Issam Baker in the West Bank city of Ramallah shared that view.

He said little would change on the ground for Palestinians and that previous rounds of talks had not produced results.

Obstacles ahead

Israeli negotiator Livni said that the negotiations would not focus on the border issue, but on stopping the conflict.

However, she forgets that the main reason for the nearly-six-decade conflict is rooted in the border issue between the two sides.

Political analysts say that the meeting is a positive move, but there is little hope for a real peace, even a practical agreement, if both sides continue to disagree on their border.

According to experts, although the Israelis and Palestinians have agreed to get back to the negotiating table, the chance of them reaching a comprehensive agreement is slim.

"Although there was recognition by both parties to resume the negotiations, there are still the Jerusalem and 1967 border issues to resolve. And I don't see, with the gaps being so wide now, how to overcome these," Prof Eyal Zisse from Tel Aviv University told Xinhua news agency.

Even if they reach an agreement of some kind during their talks, it still needs to be approved by Jerusalem and Ramallah. While the Oslo agreement was approved by the Israeli Knesset (legislature), any future deal will have to be put to a referendum in Israel, which adds a potential stumbling block to any peace deal.

President Mahmoud Abbas has called for a similar referendum, but due to the internal division among Palestinians, it would only be held in the West Bank.

The last round of direct talks broke down in 2010 over the issue of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.

The history of Middle East peace talks reads like a chronicle of failure. There were great hopes after the peace deal at Camp David in 1978.

Then, over 20 years later in the last days of his presidency, Bill Clinton tried to push through a final status agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians. The negotiations became known as Camp David Two.

But after two weeks of intense talks between Yasser Arafat and Ehud Barak, the discussions collapsed over the core issues of refugees and Jerusalem.

Three years later, President George Bush announced what he called a roadmap that proposed a series of agreements leading up to a final settlement. It also failed.

In 2005, Palestinian and Israeli leaders met at Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt but came away with only an agreement for a mutual ceasefire. Two years later, the US hosted yet another attempt at restarting negotiations in Annapolis, but failed again.

And most recently, President Barack Obama brought the leaders together for direct talks at the White House. But they collapsed after Israel refused to extend a freeze on the construction of settlements.

"The Middle East peace process more than anything else needs continuous effort and patience. The need is always out there.

"So it's not surprising that the Israelis and the Palestinians have agreed to talk, they already wanted that. What is noteworthy here is what they can bring to the table and when", said political analyst Le Dinh Tinh, deputy director general of Viet Nam's Institute for Foreign Policy and Strategic Studies.

US plays crucial role

No-one can deny the huge role the United States has played in persuading Israel and Palestine to get back to the negotiating table.

"The US definitely has a big role to play, as it has always had. This time there might be a stronger interest shown by the US partly because it is President Obama's second term," said Tinh.

"During his first term, the president and his administration had other areas of foreign policy to think about. However, the Middle East peace process remains an issue of lingering concern to both the Capitol Hill and the White House.

"Moreover, Jewish lobby groups have quite possibly have a hand in it.

"For example, if conditions like the removal of the Jewish settlements are met, the process can move forward. The Israelis will then ask for a quid pro quo. In this case, a third party such as the US can offer important additional impetus, I think."

However, with all the efforts and goodwill from both sides at the moment, it is hoped that peace will come to the long suffering people in the region.

"It's dangerous to give up hopes for peace," said Tinh. — VNS

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