Mideast Peace Process Back on Track in 2007

After seven years, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators are talking once again. That development came at the end of 2007, a year of turmoil and transition which saw the Palestinian territories split, politically, and a renewed American-sponsored push to revive the Middle East peace process. VOA's Jim Teeple has more from our Jerusalem Bureau.

Palestinians are accustomed to violence. However, the violence that erupted in the Gaza Strip in June was unprecedented. In just a few days, Hamas militants completely overwhelmed Fatah gunmen loyal to moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, effectively splitting the Palestinian territories in two, with Hamas in control of the Gaza Strip and Fatah running the West Bank.

Hamas and Fatah had been feuding violently since Hamas won legislative elections in early 2006. However, seeing an opportunity in the disaster, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas moved to reassert his authority over the Palestinians. Just days after his security forces were routed by Hamas, Mr. Abbas, dismissed a Hamas-dominated Palestinian government and swore in a new cabinet made up of independents and close allies of his Fatah movement. His moves received broad support from the Arab League, the European Union, the United States and even Israel, which signaled its willingness to re-engage with the Palestinians in peace negotiations.

Seeing an opportunity to bring both sides back to the negotiating table after a seven-year absence, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice began an intensive round of shuttle diplomacy, telling audiences extremism was gaining in the Middle East, making a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians imperative.

"If the Palestinians are losing hope, especially among the young, we have a great danger before us," she said. "The prolonged experience of deprivation and humiliation can radicalize even normal people. My fear is that, if Palestinian reformers cannot deliver on the hope of an independent state, then the moderate center could collapse forever. The next generation of Palestinians could collapse forever. The next generation of Palestinians could become lost souls of unbridled extremism."

In Israel, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert could do little but watch, as Hamas and Fatah battled each other in Gaza. Beset by political scandal, a public angry with his performance during the 2006 Israeli-Lebanon War and a fractious coalition government, Mr. Olmert seemed an unlikely partner for any peace initiative. However when former Prime Minister Ehud Barak joined his cabinet as head of the Labor Party, Mr. Olmert was assured of at least short-term political stability. With Mahmoud Abbas freed from his Hamas-dominated Palestinian government, Mr. Olmert agreed with Condoleezza Rice that conditions were right for a revival of the peace process.

Israeli policy analyst Gidi Grinstein, who heads the Reut Institute, says peace efforts can sometimes get a boost in Israel, when Israeli leaders are politically weak.

"Every Israeli prime minister has one major move to make with the Palestinians. The moment he or she begins to embark on that process their coalition breaks down and they basically lose power," said Grinstein. "So, prime ministers in Israel have to choose between political stability with immobility with the Palestinians, or making progress with the Palestinians and losing the political stability. This is why Israeli prime minister usually go for the political move with the Palestinians usually toward the end of their political tenure."

After more shuttle diplomacy from Condoleezza Rice, the two sides agreed to meet in November, at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. It was the first peace conference between the Israelis and the Palestinians in seven years. Difficulties soon emerged. Palestinians wanted detailed discussions about core issues, such as borders, the future of Jerusalem and the issue of refugees. Israelis said there should be broad discussions at Annapolis and that detailed core-issue talks should follow. In the end, both sides agreed to resume regular peace talks and to reach a peace agreement by the end of 2008.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's spokesman Mark Regev says Israel is once again committed to the peace process.

"I believe that, with this determination by the Israeli government together with the determination of the Palestinian government, we can really move forward. There is a moment of opportunity," he said. "We cannot let that moment be wasted."

Although the Annapolis conference ended on a note of optimism, polls showed that, although Palestinians and Israelis support the peace process, neither expected much to come from the talks. Israeli officials said they wanted a firm pledge from Mr. Abbas to crack down on Palestinian militants, while Palestinian negotiators said they wanted to ease restrictions on Palestinian lives.

"Palestinians want to see results on the ground, basically. We have more than 500 checkpoints in the West Bank; the cantonization of the West Bank," said Ali Jarbawi, who teaches political science at Bir Zeit University, in the West Bank.  "The movement is extremely difficult for ordinary Palestinians. The trade and economic situation is worsening, so they need to see a lifting of checkpoints and the economic situation needs to improve in order for them to believe in the negotiation process."

The atmosphere got worse. An Israeli announcement of 300 new homes in an Arab East Jerusalem neighborhood angered Palestinians. An upsurge in Palestinian rocket fire from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel by Palestinian militants opposed to the peace process angered the Israelis. The first formal meeting between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators since the Annapolis conference ended in acrimony, in December, with both sides accusing each of acting in bad faith on a host of issues.

Despite that, the peace process continued. Donors meeting in Paris pledged hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to the Palestinians to build up vital institutions like the Palestinian security services, so that Israeli troops will withdraw from the West Bank. And, both Israeli and Palestinian negotiators pledged to keep talking in the coming year, continuing the first peace negotiations in seven years between Israelis and Palestinians.

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugeesi
Henry Ridgwell
October 08, 2015 8:02 PM
Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

VOA Blogs