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Prospects for peace

Prospects for peace

Are we on the brink of a lasting peace in the Middle East? Writing in Arab News, peace activists Dr. Nazir Khaja and Fr. Raymond G. Helmick assess the chances.

August 29, 2010 4:12 by

After holding out for some time in his position that Israel must stop the settlements before resumption of the peace talks, Palestine President Mahmoud Abbas, under great pressure from the US and also the Arab League, has yielded.

Direct negotiations between Abbas and Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will begin soon at the White House in Washington. These meetings will be between each of them and also separate, with President Barack Obama. There will be joint sessions at the State Department with Hillary Clinton and mediator George Mitchell.

Expectations are very low. Stephen Walt, coauthor of the widely read “The Israel Lobby,” writes in the current issue of Foreign Policy that there is no reason to believe Abbas will accept less than a truly viable state, nor that Netanyahu will agree to anything of the sort, nor that the Obama administration will apply any meaningful pressure on Israel. And meanwhile, the creeping annexation of Palestinian territory by settlement-building that has only rhetorically been slowed, goes on to make the two-state solution that everyone professes all but impossibility.

There are still reasons not to despair. Abbas, who comes to Washington only under enormous American pressure, does know well that he must not agree to let the Palestinians be fleeced. There is good news and bad news in the setting of a one-year deadline: Time enough is allowed to bring the process to some genuine result, and also to make it clear to the participants that there will be terrible results in renewed violence if it is allowed to fail. Already the very fact of the meetings may have impressed on Netanyahu that he will bring the whole thing crashing down should he go full tilt back to further settlement building, and all the evil results of failure will follow then. Should he lose his coalition and leadership for failing to do so, there is time for a new Israeli election within the deadline. Sen. George Mitchell, who will preside over the negotiations, is a master of deadline, knowing how to use them and when to stretch them, as he proved by his brilliant work in Northern Ireland. The situation is not unlike that of the Madrid Conference of 1991, where the parties, once seated, could not escape the process once started, and had to find a breakthrough.

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