News / Middle East

    Middle East Peace, Talking about Talking

    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, center left, meets with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, center right, on Friday, July 19, 2013 in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, center left, meets with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, center right, on Friday, July 19, 2013 in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
    Cecily Hilleary
    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is making a major push to restart the long-dormant peace process between Israelis and Palestinians, but regional experts are predicting it will take a while to see if the talks make any progress.

    “I wouldn’t start chilling the champagne yet,” Ilan Peleg, a scholar at the Middle East Institute in Washington, said after Kerry announced July 19 that Israelis and Palestinians had “established a basis” for resuming peace talks.
    Ilan PelegIlan Peleg
    x
    Ilan Peleg
    Ilan Peleg


    Peleg’s caution may be wise. The Israeli-Palestinian dispute goes back even before Israel became a state 65 years ago, and repeated attempts to solve it have failed.

    Kerry’s latest diplomatic push centers around the same peace framework that has been on the table for more than three decades – creation of a separate Palestinian state on territory known as the West Bank between Israel and the Jordan River.

    This time the main players are Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, which represents West Bank Palestinians.

    ​“Kerry apparently has put enormous pressure on Abu Mazen [Abbas] to come around and begin discussions with no pre-conditions,” said Peleg, who is also a professor of government and law at Lafayette College. “There might have been even an explicit threat of cutting off American aid to the Palestinian Authority…”

    Abbas has reportedly insisted that Israel agree to one of three conditions for peace talks: The release of 103 long-term Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails, a freeze on Israeli settlements in the West Bank or a return to the borders as they were before the 1967 Middle East war.

    Israeli intelligence minister Yuval Steinitz said this week Israel might release 82 prisoners, but only after peace talks are underway.

    “Netanyahu’s maximal concessions still do not meet Abu Mazen’s minimal demands, and I believe this will become clear as the negotiations evolve,” Peleg said. “Bibi [Netanyahu] has insisted that negotiations should not be based on the 1967 lines... The bottom line is that U.N. Resolution 242 requires Israeli withdrawal on all fronts—Sinai, Golan, West Bank—and that the lines of June 4, 1967 are indeed the lines at the ‘basis’ of negotiations on establishing new lines.”

    The problem is that any Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank would involve abandoning scores of Jewish settlements set up in the region since 1967, settlements in which more than 300,000 Israelis live.

    And construction of Israeli West Bank settlements has always been a “deal killer,” says Peleg. He says it is not known what, if any, concessions have been made on this issue, but if settlement building continues in the West Bank, he believes even a minimalist deal would be impossible.

    No more 'Mitsubishi agreements'

    Meanwhile, Netanyahu is pushing a bill in the Israeli parliament, or Knesset, that would require any peace agreement to be approved not just by the government, but by public referendum. Current law requires a referendum only if sovereign territory is to be given up to the Palestinians.

    Some have suggested that the Netanyahu’s push for a referendum is either stalling for time or an attempt to shift responsibility for what would be an unpopular decision.  But others see it as a move to appease opposition from the right of Netanyahu’s governing coalition.

    And Naftali Bennett, the economics minister and chairman of the Bayit Yehudi party, is making Netanyahu’s task even more difficult by insisting that there be no more “Mitsubishi agreements.”

    Bennett’s reference is to a Knesset vote more than two decades ago on a peace initiative of the time, the so-called Oslo Accords. To win a majority vote, then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin reportedly promised a certain member of the Knesset a deputy-ministerial position and a private Mitsubishi automobile.

    “A national referendum is the only way to prevent the country from tearing apart,” Bennett recently said.

    Hard to get

    Brent E. SasleyBrent E. Sasley
    x
    Brent E. Sasley
    Brent E. Sasley

    Given the obstacles, Brent E. Sasley, a Middle East scholar and assistant professor at the University of Texas at Arlington, is wondering if this latest peace initiative will get off the ground.

    “Right now, what we are seeing is both sides essentially playing to their own domestic audiences by throwing in different wrenches [obstacles], saying what they didn’t give up, sort of playing hard to get and so on.”

    But despite that, Sasley says this is the most opportune moment for talks he has seen in some time. 

    “I think the convergence of forces have finally started to impact on Netanyahu,” Sasley said. “You can see it in a lot of his speeches, where his focus is now security and broader strategic context, as opposed to land, biblical historical claims to the West Bank and that kind of thing.”

    That said, Sasley doubts any final agreement will come out of this next round of talks, should they even take place.

    “I’m skeptical that Netanyahu and Abbas would be the ones to sign an end of conflict agreement,” he said. “But I think there is a chance for the talks to be genuine, to move the process forward, which would then also set conditions for whichever leaders come after them.”

    There are also doubts that Kerry will be able to invest the kind of time and energy he has so far invested just to get the parties to this stage of discussion. The fear is that the turmoil elsewhere in the Middle East, especially in Syria and Egypt, will command his attention instead.

     

    You May Like

    Candidates' Comments Fly Like New Hampshire Snowflakes

    Four days ahead of the country's first-in-the-nation Republican and Democratic party primary elections, surveys show the parties' contests tightening

    South Korea Says North Korea Moving Closer to Rocket Launch

    In phone call, US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping agree that Pyongyang's move would be 'provocative'

    Australian Commander: IS Changing Tactics

    Head of Australian forces in Middle East talks with VOA about training Iraqi troops, countering evolving Islamic State efforts and defeating extremism

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Yesh Prabhu from: Bushkill, PA, USA 18324
    July 25, 2013 3:01 PM
    There is a simple step that President Obama can take that would resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict for good and liberate the Palestinians from Israel's occupation of Palestine. Obama should advise Netanyahu to freeze all settlements expansion and recognize the pre 1967 borders, with some mutually agreed land swaps, as the stating point for negotiations. And he should tell Netanyahu that if he doesn't comply with the advice, the US would no loner support, with good conscience, Israel at any International forum and especially at the UN Security Council. The US, in effect, will stop using its veto to protect Israel at the UN. This would scare not just Netanyahu, but any and all of Israel's right-wing politicians who are opposed to granting freedom to the Palestinians. This would also restore some of the luster lost by the US due to its unquestioning support of Israel and all of Israel's atrocities, no matter how abominable.
    Yesh Prabhu, Bushkill, Pennsylvania

    by: Godwin from: Nigeria
    July 25, 2013 1:50 PM
    "By the Rivers of Babylon, where we sat down, and where we wept; when we remembered Zion. When the wicked carried us away captivity; required from us a song, - how can we sing the Lord's song in a strange land...." This song reminds us of how, many years ago, this land became contentious in the Middle East. To date this problem lingers. Every Israeli leader knows this truth and is afraid to toy with it. Every Palestinian child knows the truth of this but has been taught by what the Iranians call and celebrate as Jerusalem Day to make sure that the son of Isaac does not rule over the son of Ishmael. But the land in question is one land, and the people one offspring of Abraham. But they are divided by bitter hatred because of Hagar and Sarah. Awful how history can outlive its own memory. This issue is not helped by Israel's stubbornness or the antisemitism that has become the hallmark of the Arab and islamic world. Truly neither Netanyahu nor Abbas will bring this matter to an end. Its end will be when the ONE who sent Abram aside from his father's house to found the land, and who set the place apart as the Promised Land, decides who owns and inhabits the land. At the end, it will be either they agree to live together or make it a perpetual battleground which posture it seems to have accepted to be even in the present. Posterity will tell the story.

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibiti
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 05, 2016 4:30 PM
    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video Former Drug CEO Martin Shkreli Angers US Lawmakers

    A former U.S. pharmaceutical business executive has angered lawmakers by refusing to explain why he raised the price of a life-saving pill by 5,000 percent. Martin Shkreli was removed from a congressional hearing on Thursday after citing his Fifth Amendment right to stay silent. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Super Bowl TV Commercials are Super Business for Advertisers

    The Super Bowl, the championship clash between the two top teams in American Football, is the most-watched sporting event of the year, and advertisers are lining up and paying big bucks to get their commercials on the air. In fact, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl have become one of the most anticipated and popular features of the event. VOA's Brian Allen has a sneak peek of what you can expect to see when the big game goes to commercial break, and the real entertainment begins.
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Solar Innovation Provides Cheap, Clean Energy to Kenya Residents

    In Kenya, a company called M-Kopa Solar is providing clean energy to more than 300,000 homes across East Africa by allowing customers to "pay-as-you-go" via their cell phones. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Kangemi, customers pay a small deposit for a solar unit and then pay less than a dollar a day to get clean energy to light up their homes or businesses.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Apprenticeships Put Americans on Path Back to Work

    Trying to get more people into the U.S. workforce, the Obama administration last year announced $175 million in grants towards apprenticeship programs. VOA White House correspondent Aru Pande went inside one training center outside of Washington that has gained national recognition for helping put people on the path to employment.
    Video

    Video New Material May Reduce Concussion Effects

    As the 2016 National Football League season reaches its summit at the Super Bowl this coming Sunday (2/7), scientists are trying to learn how to more effectively protect football players from dangerous and damaging concussions. Researchers at Cardiff and Cambridge Universities say their origami-based material may solve the problem. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Saudi Arabian Women's Sports Chip Away at Stereotypes

    Saudi Arabian female athletes say that sports are on the front line of busting traditions that quash women’s voices, both locally and internationally. In their hometown of Jeddah, a group of basketball players say that by connecting sports to health issues, they are encouraging women and girls to get out of their homes and participate in public life. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
    Video

    Video A Year Later, Fortunes Mixed for Syrians Forging New Lives in Berlin

    In April of last year, VOA followed the progress of six young Syrian refugees -- four brothers and their two friends -- as they made their way from Libya to Italy by boat, and eventually to Germany. Reporter Henry Ridgwell caught up with the refugees again in Berlin, as they struggle to forge new lives amid the turmoil of Europe's refugee crisis.
    Video

    Video Zika Virus May be Hard to Stop

    With the Zika virus spreading rapidly, the World Health Organization Monday declared Zika a global health emergency. As Alberto Pimienta reports, for many governments and experts, the worst is yet to come.