Will the forthcoming new Jewish year, 5774, be the year when we finally witness the signing of an agreement that brings the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to an end? Or will the current negotiations join the long list of missed opportunities between these two peoples?
The announcement this summer of a resumption of talks was close to being a non-event, given that few people, whether in the Middle East, Europe or the US, believe that these talks have any significant chance of success. And yet the situation, in both international and regional terms, is more favourable than it has been in years for some kind of agreement to be reached, whose overall shape is largely familiar to all those who have hitherto tried and failed.
Paradoxically, the extreme instability of the region, and the consequent risk of a rise in extremism, is pushing the Israelis and the Palestinians to do whatever they can to avoid a rekindling of the conflict, which would have catastrophic results for everyone. Both sides realise that the window of opportunity to save the two-state solution is closing fast.
On the Palestinian side, the power shift away from the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt – which testifies to the failure of political Islam – works in favour of Fatah and against the interest of Hamas. Every victory obtained through negotiation, such as the recent liberation of prisoners, allows President Mahmoud Abbas to show the Palestinians that there is an alternative to violence when it comes to dealing with the Israelis.
On the Israeli side, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his position weakened in the recent elections, seems to have understood that he can no longer maintain the status quo of the last several years. Israel has to take the political initiative if it doesn’t want to see its friends and allies in the West become join the international campaign of criticism and delegitimisation of Israel.
In terms of the US, President Obama, who has more freedom now that he is in his second mandate, would certainly like to end his presidency on a note of success which would eclipse the half-hearted withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan. And of course John Kerry, architect of these renewed negotiations, will see his credibility increased should he decide to stand for the leadership of the Democrat Party ahead of the next presidential election.
Of course a favourable context is not enough for these negotiations to be successful. For the time being it seems that they are focused on questions of procedure: should they deal with all the contentious issues simultaneously, as the Israelis would like, or one by one, as the Palestinians want? As soon as they start to discuss the real problems – which both sides have agreed not to divulge – there will be those on both sides who oppose any compromise. Hamas has wasted no time in organising demonstrations in Gaza to express their opposition to the renewed negotiations. As for Israel, there have already been calls to tender from the Minister of Housing, Uri Ariel – himself a member of the Yesha Council, the settlers lobby – to build more housing units in East Jerusalem and in the Occupied Territories, a provocation that will undoubtedly lead to future conflict.
We set up JCall to affirm our commitment to the two state solution, which alone will guarantee that Israel remains a democratic country with a Jewish majority.
To that end, we have decided to organise a series of talks on the theme of Israel-Palestine 2020, in order to take stock off the dangers of the current situation. We have invited specialists on the region to consider the issues which concern the daily lives of both Israelis and Palestinians, whatever the situation. In the course of this lecture series, which will take place in different European cities, we will cover questions of water, energy, economy and demographics – a non-exhaustive list of subjects that are central to the Middle East of tomorrow.
The cycle of talks will begin in Paris on October 6th. Further details of this opening session are available on our website, as well as details of how to obtain tickets.
It is time to speak up, to avoid repeating the mistakes made after the Oslo Accords, when, supporters of the agreement allowed the opposition to take over the public debate.
Help usfight against scepticism and apathy. With your help we can make a difference.
JCall’s European general secretary