Last Chance? In my two posts in January 2009 titled "Israel and Hamas' Military Conflict", I discussed much of the background, the great challenges, and the relatively poor odds involved in securing a long sought fair, balanced and sustainable peace agreement that would result in a viable two state solution with full independence for Palestine and adequate security for Israel. A ceasefire was agreed to in June 2008, after lengthy mediation by Egypt, but no peace agreement.
Finally, today, after a great deal of preparatory work, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and peace envoy for President Obama, George Mitchell, invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to meet in Washington for the first direct talks in nearly two years. Importantly, this critical meeting was arranged in coordination with the United Nations, the European Union and Russia.
The right peace agreement should potentially be very beneficial to the great majority of individual Israelis and Palestinians, especially in the long run. It should also be a positive factor for the legacies of Abbas, 77, and Netanyahu, 60, which, like for most politicians, is very important to them. Additionally, this prospective foreign policy success could do a lot to help the Democrats in the upcoming mid-term elections and assist President Obama improve his public opinion polls, his own legacy, and, possibly, his prospects in the 2012 elections. Also significant, the right agreement should greatly facilitate improved relations between the U. S. and the other Arab states in the Middle East.
However, despite the above points, there are several major reasons why the odds of success are not favorable:
1. There has been a long history of unsuccessful efforts.
2. The leader of Hamas, the terrorist organization that has ruled the Palestinian territory of Gaza since June 2008, Ismail Haniyeh, has already stated he would not abide by any agreement reached by Abbas and Netanyahu in Washington.
3. Hamas, funded by Iran and donations from Saudi Arabian "charitable" organizations, incredibly does still not recognize Israel's right to exist and its charter calls for Israel's obliteration or nullification.
4. Some of the right-wing leaders of recent Israeli settlements in the West Bank, especially some of those close to Jerusalem, are very anxious about the peace talks and what may result. They might also not abide by any agreement reached by Netanyahu.
5. Several of the compromises expected to be part of a fair and balanced agreement, including the status of Jerusalem, recent Israeli settlements, prospective new national borders and rights to return to Israel of Palestinians who earlier were forced to leave, are very sensitive issues unlikely to be well received by important factions on either or both sides.
6. No matter the specific outcome of the talks, countries like Iran, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and, very importantly, also Turkey and Saudi Arabia, are likely to be skeptical of its fairness, and may withhold their support, in part because of their long-time view that the U. S. is strongly biased toward favoring Israel, and this, they believe, will be reflected in how the U. S. brokers the negotiations.
This may well be the last chance for serious direct negotiations toward a peace agreement in a decade or more. The stakes are high, especially for Israel, the Palestinians, and the U. S. Our role is very delicate. We want to firmly encourage Abbas and Netanyahu to come to a clear agreement, but we don't want to put too much pressure on them. If we are perceived to be doing so and the talks don't succeed, we will be blamed, at least in the Arab world. Even if we don't put any undue pressure on them and the talks don't succeed, there is a significant chance we will be unfairly blamed.
I think there is a real possibility that Abbas and Netanyahu will come to a conditional agreement, but it will likely be subject to approval by their respective legislatures and, in the case of Palestine, possibly their primary allies and supporters, especially Saudi Arabia, Iran and Egypt. That approval will be much more difficult. Most Americans will be very pleased if an agreement is reached and finally approved and signed. That includes me, but I just hope it doesn't include a provision in one way or another committing the U. S. to a substantial aid package that will add unduly to our budget deficits and public debt.