Why betting people predict failure in Mideast peace talks
By Ira Sharkansky
JERUSALEM–From 1967 to the early 1990s, there was no Palestinian partner for the Israelis to speak with. Israel extended the boundaries of Jerusalem, and created major settlements near Jerusalem and the Tel Aviv metropolitan area. Additional settlements appeared here and there throughout the West Bank. There are now 50-60,000 Jews living in settlements beyond the major blocs, and beyond the security barrier that represents Israel’s thinking about its eventual borders.
After the flurry of Oslo came the intifada that began in 2000.
The Sharon government withdrew about 8,500 Jews from Gaza in 2005. Perhaps on account of the way it was done (unilaterally without a quid pro quo from the Palestinians), or because of fixed attitudes among Palestinians, the withdrawal was viewed as a sign of Israeli weakness and produced a continued rain of crude missiles.
If the settlements remain as a major problem in negotiations, it should be no surprise. They reflect unrelieved Palestinian rejectionism from 1967 to 1990 as much as Israeli acquisitiveness. The intifada of 2000 and the response to the withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 make it easy to believe that the Palestinians have not changed a great deal.
American media, Israeli media, and others have numerous items expressing hope and caution. There is the thoughtful, the superficial, and lots in between. While some are sure that only a final settlement would work, others are convinced that it would be impossible to agree on all of the outstanding issues, and have their own favorite topics for interim agreements meant to build confidence and let the Palestinians continue with their economic development and nation building in the West Bank.
Hamas remains the knottiest Palestinian problem to match those 50-60,000 Jews on the other side of the security barrier in the West Bank.
This week Hamas has claimed credit for two attacks in the West Bank. Today its activists are threatening their superweapon of suicide bombings.
A number of commentators agree that Barack Obama will be too busy to play a personal part in the negotiations. More prominent on his agenda are the American economy, Afghanistan and other places east of Eden, and doing what he can to minimize Democratic losses in November, perhaps by staying away from Democratic candidates who fear his influence on their voters. If this leaves Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to be the Administration’s point person for Israel and Palestine, we can only hope that she does better than she did with health care early in her husband’s presidency. Nuance, coaxing, building consensus, and speaking softly are not her strong points. No woman may be welcome in the inner circles of Arab politics, but that caution does not go over well West of here.
The best of the comments I have seen is an item in the Washington Post, noting that Israel has a strong government that is capable of making far reaching offers, with substantial public support, and bolstered by an international constituency, while the Palestinians have neither strength nor public support, nor more help than hindrance from other Muslims.
According to Intrade, people willing to bet their own money are acting as if there is only a 5 percent chance of achieving an internationally recognized Palestinian state by the end of 2011, and a 20 percent chance that it will happen by the end of 2012.
Those numbers sound about right.
Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University