For weeks there have been murmurings in the Israeli press about the likely resumption of direct Israeli – Palestinian peace talks, and yesterday there were reports both sides will be invited to Washington in early September to start negotiations under the auspices of the Mideast Quartet.
That sounds like a victory for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has advocated direct talks in the face of Palestinian demands for only indirect negotiations using the American peace envoy, and for President Barack Obama, whose efforts in the region have been frustrated by the usual posturing by the parties, by the seeming unmovable obstacle posed by Hamas – and by his administration's own mistakes.
But you'd never know it, given the almost invisible press coverage. A breakthrough? It's much more of a bury-it-in-the-middle-of-the-paper story.
The reasons aren't hard to fathom.
I haven't encountered a single expert who thinks that:
a. The talks are likely to actually happen, even if invitations are mailed out today.
b. Or, if they do, that the parties are ready to begin seriously addressing the core issues of the conflict..
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas was pressured by Washington and by some Arab states to accept direct talks; it's hard to imagine this master of delay and vacillation will now pursue progress in the talks with any enthusiasm. And even if he does, how do the Palestinians make peace when Hamas controls Gaza and nobody has a clue how to change that?
Netanyahu could barely utter the phrase “two state solution” a couple of years ago, but he began championing direct talks when it became evident Abbas was balking.
But not many analysts swallow the proposition that the Israeli leader somehow now believes the time is right for serious talks with the Palestinians on the core issues like Jerusalem, refugees, borders and so on. How will he deal with a government ready to blow apart the moment he makes any “concessions?” How will he respond to a political base that sees new land-for-peace negotiations as national suicide for Israel?
What seems pretty evident: if direct talks do take place, both sides are likely to spend most of their time maneuvering to make the other side take the blame for their inevitable failure. Both sides will try their best to talk mostly to Washington and to the international media, and not to each other. Both will play to important constituencies back home – which will make progress extraordinarily difficult.
This isn't rocket science – which is why press coverage of the supposed breakthrough has been barely detectable.
For that matter, it's probably while pro-peace process groups here seem to be ignoring the scanty news about new talks.
I'm sure most people – excluding those Palestinians and their supporters whose goal is a Palestine encompassing all of Israel, and those Israelis and their supporters who retain visions of holding on to all of the West Bank and every scrap of Jerusalem – want the new talks to succeed.
But I sure don't hear any of the heady optimism I heard just before the Madrid peace conference, or in the early days of the Oslo process. I'm not saying resuming direct talks is a bad idea; I am saying getting the parties to the table could prove the easiest part of the process.
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