IN THE MEDIA

Risks aplenty in minefield of Mid-East peace talks

Aug 2, 2013 | Colin Rubenstein

Risks aplenty in minefield of Mid-East peace talks
news_item/livni-kerry-erekat.jpg

by: Colin Rubenstein

From: The Australian – August 02, 2013 12:00AM

ON Sunday, Israel’s cabinet made the agonising decision to authorise the staggered release of 104 Palestinian prisoners – including notorious mass murderers convicted for acts of wanton terror – in order to satisfy a Palestinian precondition for peace talks that began this week in Washington.

The risky move underscores some of the perils accompanying US Secretary of State John Kerry’s herculean efforts to reconvene negotiations which have substantively floundered since the Palestinians walked away from a generous, comprehensive peace offer from then-Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert in late 2008.

It should be remembered that while it is generally true that talking is better than not talking, failed negotiations can often create genuine negative consequences. This is why US mediators must now proceed with even greater care and caution – and learn significant lessons from past mistakes.

Israeli peace negotiator Tal Becker likes to say that while at least 75 per cent of Israelis consistently support making a two-state peace agreement with the Palestinians, an even higher percentage have come to believe it will never happen.

This growing lack of faith in the seriousness of the other side and confidence in the peace process – a sentiment that has been echoed in Palestinian surveys – can be traced back to repeated peace process stalls and failures.

Meanwhile, never far from Israeli minds is the terror of the second intifada, which claimed the lives of more than 1000 of its citizens between September 2000 and January 2005. Palestinian officials have since admitted this intifada was orchestrated by then-Palestinian president Yasser Arafat after he rejected a US brokered deal at Camp David in July 2000.

Israelis also learned painful lessons after the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 strengthened and entrenched Hamas, and led to a new, unprecedented and ongoing rocket threat on Israel’s southern communities.

Moreover, Israel is facing an unpredictable, unstable and challenging and regional security landscape, with Syria in the midst of a bloody civil war and Egypt now under military rule.

On the other side, the Palestinian public has become conditioned to believe – in no small part by their leadership’s unrelentingly hostile anti-Israel rhetoric – that negotiations are a folly that can only lead to an erosion and abdication of Palestinian “rights”, rights which in their view are justly owed to them and should therefore be non-negotiable.

Furthermore, state-run Palestinian newspapers and television continue to portray Israel as a bitter enemy, not a potential peace partner, and routinely reassert the Palestinian claim to cities and towns inside pre-1967 Israel.

It’s no surprise then that, with the exception of Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah, all factions within the PLO have come out against the resumption of the peace talks under Kerry’s terms.

Finally, it is doubtful that the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority – years overdue for new elections and unable to represent Gazans since Hamas forcibly took over the Gaza Strip in 2007 – has any clear mandate to make concessions on behalf of West Bank Palestinians, let alone the Palestinian diaspora.

All this means that there is little confidence that the gulf between the parties on key final status issues such as borders, Jerusalem, refugees and security arrangements can be bridged.

Does this mean Kerry’s efforts are pointless? Certainly not for lack of resolve on Israel’s part. Despite his hardline reputation abroad, Israeli politics watchers have noted what appears to be a new urgency for a two-state resolution in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rhetoric. He has been publicly saying a Palestinian state is a crucial strategic interest for Israel to obviate the possibility of it becoming a bi-national state in the future, an argument he has not previously made publicly.

It is for this reason Netanyahu has given Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, a major figure in prior peace negotiations and a long-time political rival, wide scope to hammer out an agreement working alongside seasoned Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat together with the very astute and experienced US-appointed mediator Martin Indyk. A weakening position for peace naysayer Hamas in Gaza, which has accelerated since the deposing of its Muslim Brotherhood allies in neighbouring Egypt, has also increased prospects for progress as it gives Fatah more room to explore two-state options.

However, peace cannot be achieved by turning a blind eye to inconvenient realities or downplaying acute risks that exist every step of the way. If it becomes clear that a final deal is not achievable, as is unfortunately likely, the opportunity to move forward in other ways must not be lost. An interim arrangement must be pursued which brings the two sides closer to the end goal of real peace, preferably including the “interim Palestinian state with temporary borders” proposed in the 2004 Roadmap for Peace.

Diplomatic creativity as well as sustained pressure will likely be required to overcome particularly Palestinian objections to this idea. These US-brokered peace efforts deserve widespread support, including by Australia, but they also require watchful vigilance.

Realistic goals and a determined effort not to allow lofty dreams to unravel smaller but very valuable current achievements are essential – not least because the consequences of another peace process failure could be severe.

Colin Rubenstein is executive director of the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council.

 

Tags:

RELATED ARTICLES


putin1609

Russia’s quest to make itself indispensable in the Middle East

Sep 17, 2020 | Featured, Fresh AIR, In the media
IMG-20200916-WA0026

Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates fully normalise relations with Israel – ABC Radio interview

Sep 16, 2020 | In the media
14IN-ISRAEL-GULFUSA

Bridging the gulf to peace

Sep 15, 2020 | Featured, In the media
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announces full diplomatic ties will be established with the United Arab Emirates. CREDIT: EPA

Deals between Israel, UAE and Bahrain shatter old barriers

Sep 15, 2020 | Featured, In the media
V3imagesbin2fe551f16a655e182c4fbe63f7c0855b Q7vdwm0ft601kpslmt2 T1880

Australia must do more to get Melbourne academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert out of Iranian prison

Aug 25, 2020 | Featured, In the media
Yuval Rotem

Senior Israeli diplomat Yuval Rotem explains UAE triumph to AIJAC webinar

Aug 21, 2020 | Featured, In the media

SIGN UP FOR AIJAC EMAILS

RECENT POSTS

Israel's representative at the UN ECOSOC this week.

AIJAC welcomes Australia’s UN ECOSOC stance

1024px-Israel_Jordan_valley

Jordan Valley tale is all wet

Yasser Abu Hilala, former head of Al Jazeera

Former Al-Jazeera chief compiles “blacklist” of journalists who support Israel-UAE and Israel-Bahrain deal

putin1609

Russia’s quest to make itself indispensable in the Middle East

IMG-20200916-WA0020

AIJAC hails signing of Abraham Accords in Washington

Israel's representative at the UN ECOSOC this week.

AIJAC welcomes Australia’s UN ECOSOC stance

1024px-Israel_Jordan_valley

Jordan Valley tale is all wet

Yasser Abu Hilala, former head of Al Jazeera

Former Al-Jazeera chief compiles “blacklist” of journalists who support Israel-UAE and Israel-Bahrain deal

putin1609

Russia’s quest to make itself indispensable in the Middle East

IMG-20200916-WA0020

AIJAC hails signing of Abraham Accords in Washington

SORT BY TOPICS