The meetings on Monday and Tuesday, July 29-30th, were at least a start. Both Secretary Kerry and President Obama made it clear that their joint commitment was strong, and recognized the difficulties ahead as each side tried at the press conference to set the stage a bit in their favor. They were talking due to the persistence of President Obama and Kerry and perhaps the realization that the alternative was eventual war and destruction of both sides. In the end, the question will be whether Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, their governments, and especially the people of both sides, can accept peace over constant conflict and potential devastation of their shared region.
With the surrounding neighborhood in unprecedented upheaval, one hopes they will look their own future in the face and decide to “do the deal” rather than continue their path towards a conflict that neither side can truly win.
The issue and solutions by this time are so etched in stone that both sides know exactly what the outcome must be and none will be too happy with the many compromises that will be necessary. The issues are so embedded in their minds that the practiced negotiators must have had dreams about them for years: the final borders, the future of Jewish settlements on the West Bank, the fate of Palestinian refugees, the status of Jerusalem and above all providing enduring security for both sides, in addition to a thousand other details.
The Kerry backed $4 billion in assistance to provide for a growing economy in the new state and joint investment and job creation in the West Bank will greatly help this process. Also it is reported that Kerry is backing the immediate relaxing of restrictions on private sector investment in the West Bank. This is an initiative that we have long called for as a key incentive for all sides to see a joint prosperity. Israel, unfortunately, has not committed publicly to stopping settlement activities, which could still be a stumbling block for the Palestinians. However, they have committed to phased release of about a hundred Palestinian prisoners.
The opposition to success is strong on both sides, and they are well known. In Israel they are the right-wing “Hawks” and the growing element of Jewish settlers on the West Bank, which are illegal under international law. On the other side, they are the hard line Palestinians and Hamas in the Gaza strip. Sec. Kerry noted this reality in saying: “I know the path is difficult. There is no shortage of passionate skeptics.”
Yet recent opinion polls in Israel have indicated popular support for a “peace deal” with a two state solution. One poll published last Friday in the liberal Haaretz newspaper, found most Israelis are open to a deal. Fifty-five percent of those polled said they would vote for a peace deal resulting in the establishment of a Palestinian state, with 25 percent against and 20 percent undecided. Sadly, that same poll found 69 percent believed the chances of concluding an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians were low.
On the Palestinian side, fifty-three percent supported the two-state solution, but 58 percent believed it was no longer practical due to Israeli settlements. And showing even more levels of pessimism some 69 percent thought the chances of establishing a Palestinian state in the next five years were slim to none.
The naming of Martin S. Indyk, an experienced U.S. negotiator and former U.S. Ambassador to Israel, as the key U.S. day-to-day special envoy is a wise move. Those that know him see this as a real plus given his deep knowledge of both the key players and the issues.
The next round of meetings will be in the Near East. It is in these sessions that the real basic issues will be focused on, perhaps leading to the intervention of President Obama and Secretary Kerry when things get very difficult. Nine months is the estimated time frame, and thus a determined and honest effort by all is indispensable. In the end, we may have to see a “summit” negotiation with President Obama and the principals of both sides pushing for a final deal, if we even get that far. Better this than the alternative!
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