Home > Israel > Pessimism prevails as peace talks loom

Pessimism prevails as peace talks loom

By Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM — It is not auspicious. More than 80 percent of Palestinians and Israelis have expressed either opposition and/or pessimism with respect to the Obama peace process. (Palestinian Center for Public Opinion , Poll #172).
Benyamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas have been dragged, kicking and screaming their preconditions while insisting they they are not preconditions.
Why is Barack Obama persisting, when he is already shaking at home in the presence of polls that show considerable disapproval, with a majority of Americans saying they support the repeal of his health care measure, and widespread expectations of disappointments in mid-term Congressional elections?

Is this the president’s Hail Mary pass, hoping for a Middle East breakthrough that will help him achieve a second term, or at least give him some good pages in the history books? Or is it the old calculation of westerners who look at the Middle East from afar and listen to some national leaders say that the Israel-Palestinian problem is the one thing in the way of resolving their problems and allowing the United States to defeat Islamic extremism and keep Iran from getting nuclear weapons?

Or perhaps the president has had a Jimmy Carter like epiphany, and believes that his purpose is to bring peace to the Holy Land?

The Palestinians have mounted a public relations campaign, with leading officials speaking in Hebrew or English to the Israeli public about their desire to live in peace. So far it does not compare with Anwar Sadat’s visit to the Knesset in 1977.

“Be the heralds to your sons. Tell them that past wars were the last of wars and the end of sorrows. Tell them that we are in for a new beginning to a new life – the life of love, prosperity, freedom and peace. ”

The hard to please Israelis will tell you that the peace with Egypt is, at best, a cold peace. Yet while the country was riveted to the media for Sadat’s speech, it is hard to find reference to the Palestinian campaign. It might help if one of the men claiming to extend his hand in friendship did not have the reputation of a thug.

There is no end of commentary setting forward the problems needing to be overcome to reach an accord. Enthusiasts claim that the outline of the deal have been well known for years. Within their outline, however, are details that have, also for years, been weighty enough to scuttle efforts at accommodation.

It is not adding to anyone’s optimism that a prominent rabbi has cursed the Palestinian leadership, and called upon the Almighty to kill them all. The previous Israeli concession to freeze construction in the settlements expires less than a month after the talks are due to begin. Israeli centrists are calling for new construction in the major settlements, and Israeli rightists are demanding construction wherever Jews want to expand in the West Bank. Palestinians are saying that they will stop the talks if the bulldozers move anywhere.

Skeptics note that Hamas opposes the peace process and any concessions to Israel, and is capable of making trouble. Egyptian forces have uncovered stocks of anti-aircraft missiles and other weapons in the Sinai destined for smuggling to Gaza. Hezbollah chose this week to announce a military alliance with Syria directed against Israel. It does not take much imagination to see traces of Iran in all of this.

Just yesterday I hosted an American friend on our balcony, and pointed to the Arab neighborhood of Isaweea 200 meters away, and the line 50 meters from us where Ehud Barak and Bill Clinton would have drawn an international border in 2000.
The present government has proclaimed time and again that it would not divide Jerusalem, but how many Jews really want to hold onto Isaweea and other Arab neighborhoods? They may go to the Palestinians as part of an end game if most other issues can be settled amicably.
But again, the details are challenging. The players may agree to assign certain areas to a Palestinian state in the way of colonial Poobahs, without asking the natives what they want. Palestinians would be loath to admit that any of their people would not accept Palestinian citizenship, and Israelis would be inclined to rid themselves of as many Arabs as possible. However, it is may be that many–perhaps most–residents of those neighborhoods would prefer to remain on the Israeli side of the line, with access to jobs, health insurance and other social benefits. But no one may ask them.

Then there is the issue of the Temple Mount. Moshe Dayan decided pretty much by himself to leave it in Muslim hands in 1967. Few Jews visit it. Orthodox rabbis forbid their followers from walking on what may be holy ground, whose precise location is not certain. However, Israelis fume at Palestinian claims that the Jews never had more than a marginal presence in Jerusalem, and at  Palestinian construction that seems designed to wipe out any traces of Jewish relics on the Mount or under its surface. An inability to decide on allocations with respect to that place are among the problems that frustrated an agreement in 2000.
Whatever happens will take a while. Unless it ends quickly.

Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University.

  1. K
    August 30, 2010 at 10:40 am

    It almost sounds like you WANT the violence to continue. Also, you don’t have a very firm grasp of American politics. But that’s okay, a lot of people don’t!

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