Obama’s Middle East breakthrough? Dream on
Our correspondent reports from Ramallah and Jesusalem on the reality behind the high-falutin diplomacy
News of Barack Obama's apparent breakthrough in the Middle East peace process makes for great copy, but the announcement's beauty is only skin deep. His 'success' simply amounts to having forced Prime Minister Netanyahu to agree to a freeze in settlement construction as a means to get both sides - Israelis and Palestinians - to the negotiating table.
While any kind of concession on the part of the hardline Israeli government must be seen as a positive sign, past form is the best guide as to how the latest round of peace talks will ultimately pan out.
Successive Israeli, Palestinian and international politicians have come, seen, and failed to conquer the seemingly insurmountable obstacles on the path to a true and lasting resolution to the conflict. Despite all the fanfare surrounding Obama's attempts at bridging the gulf between the two sides, the fact that Netanyahu has dug his heels in so hard at the first hurdle - settlement construction - indicates the near impossible task that lies ahead.
Obama squeezing a temporary cessation to settlement building like blood from a stone does not augur well for the far more serious items on the agenda.
“We’ve been here before, and what did we get? Nothing but empty promises”
According to Israeli officials, the Palestinian right of return is out of the question, likewise the suggestion to divide Jerusalem and give the eastern half to the Palestinians as their capital. Yet both issues are of sacrosanct importance to the Palestinian people, and any offer falling short on those fronts will see today's optimism quickly fizzle out once again.
In the West Bank city of Ramallah yesterday, the mood was one of tired resignation among those forced to live for over 40 years under Israeli occupation. "We've been here before, haven't we?" said a cab driver eking out a living in the inclement conditions of regular road-closures and flying checkpoints. "And what did we get? Nothing other than empty promises, of course".
At the diplomatic level, the Palestinian Authority's chief negotiator, Dr Saeb Erekat, seemed to hold out little hope for rapprochement between the opposing camps: "Whether it's Avigdor Lieberman, Moshe Ya'alon or Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel is sending mixed messages about peace, and US efforts to restart negotiations. There is no unified approach and little coordination. This suggests that peace is not a high priority for the Israeli government."
He still insisted that peace was possible, but only if Israel made serious efforts to right the decades-old wrongs in the Occupied Territories. "As time goes by, Israel's intransigence does little to inspire much confidence that it is genuinely willing to take the necessary steps towards real peace."
Erekat said the outcome of Wednesday's meeting in London between Netanyahu and US envoy George Mitchell - designed to hammer out details of the Obama-brokered peace talks - would "hinge on whether Israel wants to play a constructive role in efforts to restart negotiations, and whether it intends to be a genuine partner for peace".
President Obama reportedly wants to announce his 'breakthrough' peace talks sometime in September, flanked by Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. He then hopes to have a final peace agreement negotiated within two years.
Crossing back into Israel yesterday via the labyrinthine Qalandiya checkpoint, I watched scores of Palestinians being herded from pillar to post at the whim of stern-faced Israeli soldiers. Suspicion, enmity and hostility hung low in the air like thick fog. Obama's wish sounded fanciful to the say the least. ·
Comments are now closed on this article