Reaction to Middle East peace talks

Middle East experts analyse the US-sponsored summit aimed at relaunching peace talks.

Barack Obama and Binyamin Netanyahu
Both Netanyahu and Abbas have seemingly intractable conditions for a peace deal [EPA]

The leaders of Israel and the Palestinian Authority are meeting in Washington, DC, where they have pledged to work toward peace.

However, they have also asserted that their national interests must be satisfied by any future peace deal.

Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, urged Israel to freeze settlement construction in areas of the occupied West Bank that the Palestinians want as part of their new state, and to end its blockade of Gaza, which is controlled by the Hamas movement.

Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, who called Abbas “my partner in peace”, stressed the central importance of security assurances for Israel as part of any land-for-peace agreement with the Palestinians.

Al Jazeera talked to several analysts to get their reaction to the talks.

John Mearsheimer, professor of political science at the University of Chicago, co-author of the book The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy

“These talks are not going to lead to a permanent agreement. This is basically a charade. And in fact the peace process has become a charade.

“The main obstacle, but certainly not the only obstacle to a peace agreement, is the fact that the Netanyahu government has no interest whatsoever in giving the Palestinians a viable state of their own. Of course the Palestinians understand that.

“The Israelis are benefitting [from the talks] mainly because it provides very good cover for them to continue the occupation and the colonisation of the West Bank and to keep the Palestinians in Gaza in a giant open-air prison.

“When the Netanyahu government first came to office it made the fundamental mistake of thinking that it did not have to pretend that it was really interested in peace, that it could just colonise the occupied territories without saying that it was genuinely interested in creating a Palestinian state.

“But the Netanyahu government has learned that you have to engage in this charade to allow you to continue to colonise the occupied territories.”

Marwan Muasher, former Jordanian foreign minister

“It’s difficult not to be a bit cynical about a relaunch of talks that have happened before and where no serious progress has been made. Not much will be achieved this week.

“I think that the important point to look for is when and where the next round of talks will take place. If they do take place in Washington, then that would indicate to me some seriousness on the US administration’s part in pushing the talks forward.

“If they happen anywhere else but Washington, I do not think that would be a good sign for the peace process.

“With the presence of so many settlements, with the presence of the wall, with the rift between so many Palestinians, we are already at a point where a two-state solution is already very, very difficult to implement.

“So we’re not talking about a point in the future, we either do it now and therefore the one year deadline by the Americans is a good deadline, if it is to be seriously followed.

“If we don’t have that within one year, I’m afraid that people on both sides will begin to talk about a one-state solution.

“Time has virtually run out, it is not on the side of a two-state solution for sure. And if a solution is not effected today then the region will unfortunately face a very chaotic and violent situation for decades.

“And then people will certainly – even the moderates on the Arab side – will start talking about a one- state solution.”

Robert Malley, special assistant on Middle East to former US President Bill Clinton and participant in negotiations at Camp David 10 years ago

“The good news is that there already was a Camp David, so a lot of these issues they have discussed before. They will not be starting from scratch.

“There was a learning period in 2000. Everyone was discovering his own position and the position of the others for the first time. So we’ve gone through all that.

“That doesn’t necessarily make things easy, because we have discovered the gaps between the sides and the political situation today, particularly on the Palestinian side is not what it was in 2000.

“President Abbas is coming here in a very weakened state. Prime Minister Netanyahu is coming here as the head of a very hardline right-wing government. That makes things in its own way very different from 10 years ago.

“The first objective [of the US] is to get what is called a framework agreement. What are the broad principles that are going to guide the outcome on Jerusalem, on refugees, on borders, on settlements. That, if you can do it at all, you can do it very quickly. If the gaps are too great – you spend a week or 10 years  – you wont get there. You don’t need time for that. 

“What you do need time for is for the detailed, comprehensive agreement.

“But I think the main objective now is to get what we used to call a framework agreement – an agreement on the principles that are supposed to narrow the gaps. This is different from the issue of resolving the settlements as a whole.”

Yousef Munayyer, executive director of the Palestine Center in Washington, DC

“When you hear the remarks that were made today, particularly the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech, there was not one mention of a Palestinian state.

“Last year the Obama administration pressed Netanyahu to say those words, ‘Palestinian state’, the basic framework of this entire peace process that has been going on for 20 years. And he barely was able to utter that last summer.

“And now, after indirect negotiations and the launch of direct negotiations, we once again hear Netanyahu talking about a secure peace, a lasting peace, but is this a peace of independence for Palestinians or a peace of submission to Israeli occupation?

“There are no doubt certain degrees of risk for everybody in peace talks. When we look at the situation candidly it is clear that Abbas is taking the biggest risk, with the least amount of guarantees.

“Obama is taking somewhat of a risk.

“But Netanyahu’s risk is not significant. He has a secure coalition at home, he is unlikely to renew this settlement freeze, Israel has only shown signs of moving more to the right.

“He has a number of options for political survival regardless of what happens in these peace talks whereas Abbas does not, he is going out on a limb significantly.”

Source: Al Jazeera

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