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

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

Audio 'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book More

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.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
X
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs