Friday, August 27, 2010

Resumption of Peace Talks

PIAG is cautiously optimistic about the announcement of the resumption of direct talks between Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The Palestinian Authority broke off direct talks with Israel in December 2008, when Israel launched its three-week assault on Gaza. President Obama has spent the last 18 months trying to persuade both sides to restart the dialogue. You can read about the resumption of negotiations in both the New York Times and Aljazeera, each of which presents a slightly different perspective:

One of the difficulties with restarting face to face negotiations has been the issue of Jewish-only settlements that Israelis continue to build with impunity on Palestinian land. A self-imposed settlement freeze has been in place since November 2009, yet the freeze did not include East Jerusalem and has been routinely violated in the West Bank. Although the result has clearly been better than no freeze at all, 492 violations have been reported by the liberal Israeli group Peace Now:

Mr. Netanyahu has refused to extend the settlement freeze past September 26, its expiration date, claiming that doing so would cause his right-wing government to collapse. Such is politics!

In the past, Mr. Abbas has insisted that all Israeli settlement construction be stopped before peace talks resume. Yet it appears that Abbas has conceded this point under intense pressure from the U.S. and the European Union.

Of course, all these decisions have ignored the people of Gaza entirely. Hamas, the duly elected ruling party, has never recognized Abbas’s government in the West Bank, and predictably has criticized the decision of the Palestinian Authority to return to the negotiating table. According to Hamas leader Ismail Haniya, “nothing has been achieved” to warrant the resumption of talks. There have been no gestures of good faith, no thawing of relations, no assurances that a new Palestinian state will be based on the 1967 borders, no guarantee that Palestinian lands will not continue to be expropriated while talks drag on over the next year.

We agree. Yet Quakers put their faith in dialogue, and believe that discussion in hopeless circumstances can sometimes yield surprising results.

So it is with hope mixed with a certain degree of skepticism that we report this very small step toward a just peace. Despite the difficulties, most close observers of the conflict agree that these talks may be the last chance for a two state solution.