Political Promise

Middle East Peace: Talks to resume with aim to ‘resolve all final status issues within one year’

In Dan Owens on August 22, 2010 at 11:06 am

By Daniel Owens

Standing at her podium from the State Department in Washington DC, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that Israeli-Palestinian Peace talks would resume in September after years of political stalemate.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netenyahu and the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will meet on September 1st and commence direct negotiations in Washington under the watchful eye of the White House. President Obama has also invited President Mubarak of Egypt and King Abdullah of Jordan commenting that “their continued leadership and commitment to peace will be essential to our success.”

Obama will be directly included in the talks and will hold meetings with the four leaders before inviting them to dinner, where Special Representative of the Middle East Quartet, Tony Blair, will be present. A tri-lateral meeting at State Department between Clinton, Abbass and Netenyahu will officially relaunch the direct talks on September 2nd.

The US have stated that all the major issues would be on the table, including difficult final status questions of the Palestinian right of return, the division of Jerusalem, the Palestinian borders and the construction of settlements in occupied territories. The US Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, fundamentally believes that it is wholly realistic to attach a one year deadline to resolve these roadblocks to peace; despite both sides not being able to agree since the 1993 Oslo peace accords. Drawing from his experience as a peace broker in Northern Ireland, Mitchell commented that “in Northern Ireland we had about 700 days of failure and one day of success and we approach this task with the same determination to succeed, notwithstanding the difficulties and notwithstanding the inability to get a final result so far.”

However, real questions must be asked of the potential success of these new negotiations and actually of the commitment of both leaders to a final solution. It has been nearly 2 years since the last ‘serious’ discussions, during which time there has been the Israeli assault on Gaza, Palestinian attacks on Israel, further construction of illegal settlements in Jerusalem and Hamas still remains in power of Gaza.

The Palestinians are doubtful of the White House’s ability to pressure Israel; the Israeli Lobby are concerned about Obama’s government selling out Israel; the Israelis have no real incentive to build peace thanks to their ‘separation’ (or apartheid) wall. So where could these negotiations actually go?

The roadblocks to peace are still of vital importance to those most affected by the ongoing hostilities: those in refugee camps.  However, the key obstacles are still Jerusalem, resources, refugees, settlements and borders.

Jewish claims eastern Jerusalem, stem from the location of Jerusalem as the ancient capital of Judea and was site to the Jewish holy temple, of which only the Western (wailing) wall remains. Similarly, Arabs lay claim to the land based the longevity of occupancy by Arab peoples and due to the location of the al-Aqsa mosque; the mosque is regarded as the third holiest site in Islam. In 1967, the Israelis captured East Jerusalem from Jordan and from the Jewish perspective this was seen as the reunification of the holy city.  For the 250,000 Arab inhabitants of East Jerusalem, identity is a major issue, with them living a ‘half-existence’ by avoiding conflict with the Israelis but struggling to retain their Palestinian identity.

The fate of Palestinian refugees remains a wholly divisive issue within Jewish and Arab camps, over 62 years since Israelis conception. Since its creation in 1948 and its occupation of Gaza and the West Bank in 1967 it is estimated that more than 50% of Arabs of pre-1948 Palestine have been displaced. Millions of former inhabitants are now living in refugee camps spread across the remaining Palestinian territories and neighbouring countries like Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. Many believe that the 1948 displacement is a blatant example of ethnic cleansing, and unsurprisingly the Israeli accounts deny this.

In 2006, a UN report detailed the number of registered Palestinian refugees as over 4.3million.

·         West Bank/Gaza:            1,699,025

·         Syria:                                    434,896

·         Jordan:                                 1,835,704

·         Lebanon:                             405,425

The main issue is the right of repatriation for Palestinian refugees; a right enabled under UN General Assembly Resolution 194. With the justification of not wanting to potentially harm its Jewish population, Israel has denied Arabs the right of return and refuse to consider it as a serious final status issue.

Finally, the most contentious issue on the table next month will be that of borders and settlement removal. Over 60 years since its creation, no permanent clear borders have been established. Under the UN plan for Palestine, Israel was set to occupy 55% of the land, with remainder under Palestinian control, save for Jerusalem which was destined for international control. However, after the 1948 war of independence, Israeli occupancy came to 78% with the West Bank and Gaza under international control. The issue of settlements is closely associated with the Zionist movement, a Jewish/Nationalist cause that is based on a Biblical passage which states:

“God made a covenant with Abram and said, ‘To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates’.” (Genesis 15:18)

The settlements are highly illegal under international law and despite stern warnings from the international community; Israel is still proceeding to construct more settlements, despite already occupying nearly 50% of the West Bank – a supposed Palestinian territory. A recent spat with Barack Obama led many to believe that the Israeli settlements would come under increasing scrutiny; these beliefs were later dashed when Obama backed down from the confrontation.  In terms of land, from an Arab perspective, a return to the pre-1967 war borders would be an acceptable territorial solution, however Israel strictly opposes forcing Israelis from their now established lands.

These peace talks are likely to bring with them a variety of sound bites, photo opportunities and numerous handshakes, but the question of whether it will bring a close to a terrible period of history remains to be seen. Whilst it might seem awfully pessimistic of me, and even against such talks, it is my opinion that until lasting concessions are made by both sides, any rushed talks will just be another pointless expense for everyone involved.

Let’s just hope I am wrong.

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