Israel

Slim Chances, But Middle East Peace Talks Could Be Different This Time

John Kerry has convinced Israeli and Palestinian leaders that the region’s upheaval requires them to at least search for a solution. Whether they find it is another question.

Bridging divides, breaking down walls
Bridging divides, breaking down walls

- Editorial -

PARIS — A genuinely enthusiastic welcome for the resumption of U.S.-led peace talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders would require more than a healthy dose of optimism. For more than two decades, from Oslo to Annapolis, Camp David, Sharm el-Sheikh, or Taba, so many occasions — too many occasions — to end the Israeli–Palestinian conflict have been wasted.

Skepticism is the order of the day. President Barack Obama’s first term was marked, on this issue, by powerlessness, even renunciation. Current U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has spent five months moving mountains merely to achieve the resumption of talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Then there is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government’s steadfast policy of expanding West Bank settlements. It prevents any Palestinian territorial continuity and seems to invalidate even the most fundamental tenets of a realistic agreement for the coexistence of two states, the sharing of Jerusalem and the 1967 “Green Line” as a border.

What’s more, all the various stakeholders have, in some way, tied their own hands. The Israeli prime minister is busy, on his right, with Naftali Bennett, from the settlers’ movement. The leaders of the Palestinian Authority are in charge of only a part of the territory they claim (the West Bank), while the Gaza Strip remains under the rigid control of the Islamist movement Hamas.

What’s at stake

As slim as the chances may be, however, hope for the upcoming talks does exist. For one simple reason: Reaching an agreement may never have been so important for the Israelis and the Palestinians than it is now. With each passing day, they are increasingly isolated in a region swept up in the aftermath of the Arab Revolutions and undermined by much more deadly conflicts — starting with the long-simmering internal Islamic war between the Shia and the Sunni.

Because of the Syrian chaos, to which no one can any longer predict a respite, tens of thousands of Palestinians have fled to Lebanon and Jordan, which are already overwhelmed by the influx of refugees. This civil war has led, for the first time since 1973, to shots fired on the Israel-annexed Golan Heights, and to the use of chemical weapons such as sarin gas by the Damascus regime, thus far with complete impunity. Further south, Israel is anxiously watching its Egyptian neighbor’s convulsions and the Sinai Peninsula’s descent into anarchy, without knowing if the peace treaty signed by Anwar Sadat in 1979 will survive.

These two threats alone — without taking into account a third and more disastrous one that the Iranian nuclear program may represent — should encourage the Israelis and the Palestinians to have a minimum of good sense, by making sure they have reliable neighbors and stable borders.

The initial credit here goes to John Kerry, who, as small of a step it was, convinced the two sides what was at stake. It is now their own responsibility to make the most of this occasion.

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