Vision and reality

A grand opening it was but that’s about all it was.

To those who thought bringing Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas into the same room was a marvel in itself, but please wait for the serious business that is about to begin.

From now on, and for the next year, every two weeks the two leaders will meet, and with every fortnight, a set trio of questions by the parties concerned will be asked: How much progress was made, how much was not and will this be their last meeting?

The goal is a permanent settlement that ends the Israeli occupation of territory captured in 1967, and an independent, democratic Palestinian state existing peacefully beside Israel. But none of the parties believe that a year of talks will result in the implementation of a two-state solution. The goal is a “framework agreement” which special US envoy George Mitchell describes as “more detailed than a declaration of principles but… less than a full-fledged treaty.” In other words, a guideline to be implemented when the weather gets better. However, Abbas is convinced, with good reason, that Netanyahu won’t offer even that. After all, the Israeli prime minister refused to halt settlement construction or accept the 1967 borders as the basis for talks, and he insists Israel will not share Jerusalem.

But Abbas has little alternative but to go along with the US, though he stands to lose much because his political fortunes depend on his ability to win concessions from Israel. Ironically, on the other hand, Netanyahu could become a hero at home if the talks fail, for the majority of Israelis either are no longer interested in the peace process or believe the concessions Israel must make to achieve peace are too high and not worth it.

Still, if he is serious about the talks, Netanyahu may have to build a new coalition, one more amenable to making peace than the current right-wing ideologues.

If Netanyahu sticks to the preconditions he cited, Abbas may be hoping simply to demonstrate, with Hillary Clinton in the room, that he is not the problem, that Netanyahu will not willingly implement a viable two-state solution and that if Washington believes, as the secretary of state emphasized, that a two-state peace is important to US national security, it had better be prepared to pressure the Israelis, though that may be wishful thinking.

The Abbas-Netanyahu face-to-face did pass an initial and very early test following the drive-by shooting by Hamas of four Jewish settlers in the West Bank. The deaths could have stopped the talks before they began. Hamas, dead against the negotiations, did not expect to stop the talks but signaled what they could do to derail them.

Of more serious concern is that if Israel were to resume expanding Jewish settlements in the West Bank after a 10-month freeze expires on Sept. 26, the Palestinians warn that there will be no agreement. This surely is the talks’ first biggest hurdle.

If history repeats itself, then the talks will come to nothing. After all, it has been almost 20 years since the first of several peace processes started: Madrid, Oslo, Wye, Camp David Two, Mitchell, the Arab peace initiative, the Geneva Accords. Annapolis and the road map. They all had visions of peace which has not yet materialized. We can now add the Obama Plan to the list of attempts being made but it should be noted that both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush’s failed efforts were followed by huge surges in violence – Arabnews