A lot has been going on in the past few days. The situation in Pakistan continues to worsen, Hurricane Earl did its damage on the eastern U.S. and Canadian seaboard, New Zealand says damage from the massive 7.1-magnitude earthquake could cost nearly $2 billion and at least 38 were killed in Guatemalan mudslides. It’s been dreadfully busy.
But, behind the veil of all these natural disasters, many have begun predicting, some optimistically and some pessimistically, the outcome of the direct talks between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
The two met late last week and have agreed to meet every two weeks to continue talks. The next meeting will take place on Sept. 14-15, likely in Egypt.
But, as each day passes, each day without an official announcement on whether the 10-month settlement freeze on construction in the West Bank will be extended or lifted on Sept. 26, the pessimism outweighs the optimism.
Palestinian leaders say they will withdraw from the talks if the construction continues (which it already has in some places, despite the freeze). Even if, somehow, Abbas stays despite a continuation in construction, Hamas may quickly derail the talks with attacks, something they’ve promised if construction continues.
Hamas already struck on the eve of the beginning of the direct talks, killing four Israeli settlers. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton has asked Netanyahu to extend the freeze, but he has not made an announcement yet.
Some argue the absence of Hamas in these direct talks is a crippling omission that could ultimately lead to the failure of these negotiations.
“Sidelining Hamas in any process to craft genuine peace between Israelis and Palestinians is a glaring omission tantamount to ignoring an elephant in the room…Without this investment in partial talks where the full gamut of Palestinian’s will and choice is demonstrable, peace in the Middle East will embody the elephant in the living room.”
It’s undeniable that much is missing from these talks. Talks between leaders from a few Arab nations, along with the U.S. and the two leaders from the disputing countries, is likely not enough to reach a long-lasting peace. The region is much more complicated, throughout history and now, and a few men and women cannot solve centuries of problems with smiles and handshakes.
And don’t forget. These talks can be dangerous, too.
Even though the talks organized by the Obama administration carry more hope and weight than those organized in the past, the history of conduct after previous failures is hardly pleasant.
“In 2000, the Camp David summit was aimed at ending this conflict for once and for all and once again it failed for all. That failure gave birth to the second Intifada, or Palestinian uprising, and with it came unprecedented Israeli military operations against a largely unmilitarised civilian population and waves of Palestinian suicide attacks against Israeli civilians…the parties were dragged back to the table at Annapolis, this time to launch bi-weekly meetings. Those talks lasted about one year until Israel launched Operation Cast Lead which pretty much cast doubt about any intentions it had about making peace.”
Also, after President Bush’s failed attempt to bring peace in 2003, firing rockets from Gaza became a popular method of attack by militarised Palestinians.
A third round of talks would take place around Sept. 30, four days after the freeze on construction will expire, if not extended.
While the talks and smiles continue, let’s not forget what has happened after they have failed in the past. Too many lives lost.