The Obama administration has suddenly approached Middle East peace policy with renewed vigor, after a series of bumpy diplomatic rows with Israel earlier this year. The leaders of Israel, the Palestinian authority, Egypt, and Jordan met or are meeting again with U.S. Middle East Negotiator George Mitchell and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to begin the first direct peace talks in two years. Clinton is leading the mission on a day-to-day basis, according to ABC News. Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have agreed to continue direct peace talks every other week.
“This is in the national security interest of the United States”, Clinton said, as seen on ABC News. “But we can not and we will not impose a solution.”
As the record of failed peace negotiations past can attest, simply getting all parties to agree to meet again should be considered something of a diplomatic success. A second round of negotiations in Egypt will take place Sept. 14 and 15.
Middle East and global audiences are skeptical of the possibility for success, according to The Guardian. One of the most obvious major obstacles is the notable absence of Hamas at the table. The militants control Gaza, while their rivals, Fatah, hold power in the West Bank. As the New York Times is reporting, splinter Fatah groups have joined with Hamas in vowing to attack Israel and Israeli settlers with increased intensity with the specific purpose of derailing the peace talks. Hamas won Palestinian Parliamentary elections in 2006, but following a brief conflict with Fatah, found itself isolated in Gaza; the organization is considered a terrorist group by the U.S., European Union, Japan, Canada, and Israel.
Meanwhile, right-wing Israeli settlers continued to build in the West Bank, in defiance of Abbas’ call to freeze settlements.
There are signs that, in general, the region would like to see a resolution. Saudi Arabia and Syria attended the 2007 Annapolis talks, and Syria held indirect peace talks with Israel in 2008, according to the Associated Press. However, while Netanyahu was suggesting peace was possible and desirable with Syria, his bellicose Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, sent different signals, that Syria would lose a future war with Israel. Lieberman is part of a far-right faction of Netanyahu’s coalition. He was responding to the Syrian foreign minister’s threat to target Israeli cities in a future war.
To make peace a real possibility, both parties will need to reflect sincerity. For Abbas, he will be required to be willing to make concessions while not giving away so much he further alienates Fatah from Palestinians who want to see what they consider a viable two-state solution. Netanhyahu is under the same pressure, though perhaps not as directly as Abbas, who must contend with well-armed political and militant opponents.
Middle East experts who believe only the United States can pressure the opposing sides into a settlement were disturbed to hear Clinton suggest the U.S. would not impose a solution, effectively limiting the country’s role as a persuasive force. However, as the negotiations manager, Clinton will have to display creativity, firmness, and a willingness to press on, even when discussions become entrenched in rhetoric and reach an impasse. Where others have failed in the past, ultimately Clinton’s ambitious nature and desire to leave a mark could prove to be key assets, presuming the parties are sincere in their willingness to settle.
Ian Black, “Middle East peace talks: 17 years after Oslo Clinton takes on challenge” The Guardian
Jake Tapper, “Eyes on Hillary Clinton as She Leads Mideast Peace Talks” ABC News
Fares Akram, “Gaza: Militant Groups Promise More Attacks” New York Times
Charles Levinson, “Hamas Threats Suggest Palestinian Divisions” Wall Street Journal
Ian Deitch, “Israel warns Syria it would lose future war” Associated Press