Palestinian and Israeli officials are due to meet in Jordan in an attempt to revive the peace process. The talks are the result of pressure from the Quartet of world powers, comprising the US, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations, which has given both parties a deadline of 26th January 2012 to set out proposals on security and territory to pave the way for future negotiations. Israeli envoy Yitzhak Molcho will meet with Palestinian Saeb Erekat, before both go before the Quartet, in the first official talks between the two sides since negotiations stalled in 2010.
But will the latest talks really kick-start the stalled peace process? The circumstances don’t allow for much optimism. Palestinian president and chief of Fatah Mahmoud Abbas met with head of Hamas Khaled Meshaal at the end of last year to discuss a rapprochement; but given that Israel considers Hamas a terrorist organisation, Israeli Prime Minister Binjamin Netanyahu has said he will not consider any peace talks that include the party, said The Telegraph. And Bloomberg’s Business Week reported that a Hamas spokesman said the forthcoming meetings are doomed to failure.
Gaza Strip Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniya has made his first official overseas trip since 2007, reported The New York Times. The PM ‘s itinerary includes Egypt, Sudan, Turkey and Iran.
Reasons for optimism. According to Voice of America, Gershon Baskin, co-director of the Israel Palestine Centre for Research and Information in Jerusalem, said that despite low expectations, the mere fact that the two envoys were meeting was a positive development: “The fact that they are beginning something leaves a little crack in the door for some hope.”
Reasons for pessimism. “Certainly the Europeans and the Americans need to give the impression that there is a peace process going on. It is a win-win situation for everybody, but a win-win situation that it seems, utterly, will fail,” said Marwan Bishara at Al Jazeera. Bishwara pointed out that the peace process, which has been going on for 20 years, is still very much a process – that is, there is no end in sight. Ethan Bronner pointed out in The New York Times that Palestinian insistence that Israel should stop building settlements in the West Bank before peace talks can go ahead is a major sticking point, as the Israelis have said they will only negotiate if there are no preconditions.
The meeting between Israel and Palestinian envoys was brokered by the King of Jordan who, according to widespread reports, is increasingly concerned about peace in the Middle East. “Jordanian King Abdullah II has become increasingly vocal on the need to press ahead in the peace process and his attitude toward Israel’s leadership appears more critical and cool than in the past,” reported The Los Angeles Times.
Israel doesn’t want peace. Merav Michaeli in Israeli newspaper Haaretz accused Netanyahu’s government of deliberately ignoring all opportunities for peace in the region. Michaeli characterised the offical line as: “Why give a chance to something that can extricate us from this pattern of the victim that we find so cozy to live in?” According to Michaeli, the Israeli government is letting down the public, who do want peace.
US absence. The fact that the US will not take its usual lead role in the talks is potentially highly significant, wrote Howard LaFranchi at The Christian Science Monitor. According to LaFranchi, Middle East experts say the US absence demonstrates three key points: American influence in the region has waned in the wake of the Arab Spring; the forthcoming US elections mean President Obama is unwilling to put pressure on Israel; and nobody expects much from the talks, so there is little incentive for the US to get involved.
More on Middle East politics