After Three Year Hiatus, Middle East Peace Talks to Resume

by David Wilson,
ITL Staff Writer

For the first time in nearly three years, direct talks will resume between Israeli and Palestinian leaders. The announcement comes after days of separate talks between US Secretary of State John Kerry and the leaders of Israel and Palestine. Over the past six months Kerry has made six visits to the region in an effort to bring the two sides once more to the negotiating table. And now, after this most recent trip, it appears he has been successful. Details have yet to be released, but Kerry has said that the two sides will convene in Washington in the next couple of weeks to resume negotiations.

Importantly, the Arab League has backed the proposed peace plan. Kerry met with nine foreign ministers of the Arab League in Jordan last week, and the League’s Initiative of 2002 has resurfaced as a potential solution. This initiative is a pledge from Arab nations for full recognition of Israel, but is contingent on the return of all land captured by Israel in the war of 1967. This may ultimately prove a sticking point, as many right-wing members of Israel’s coalition government have previously refused to engage in dialogue that focuses around the premise of a transfer of territory.

However, Israel has agreed to a release of Palestinian prisoners as part of a deal to resume peace talks. And while there has been no further word on specifics, the number of prisoners released could be as high as 350, some of whom have been held since before the signing of the Oslo peace accords in 1993. Currently, there are 4,817 Palestinians being held in Israeli jails, and their release has been a long-standing demand of Palestinian leaders in order to progress with peace talks.

On the Palestinian side, a commitment has been made to serious negotiations for a minimum of nine months. This despite Israel having not accepted Palestinian pre-conditions to halt settlement construction. As ever though, opinion on the talks in Palestine is divided between the two factions, Fatah and Hamas. Leaders of the State of Palestine in the West Bank met with Kerry multiple times during his latest visit. Yet in the territory of Gaza, controlled by the Islamist movement Hamas, leaders have dismissed the upcoming peace talks, claiming they will fail to achieve any positive benefit for the Palestinian people. A spokesman for Hamas, Sami Abu Zuhri, responded to the announcement of a continuation of talks, saying ‘[Palestinian President] Mahmoud Abbas does not have the legitimacy to negotiate on fateful issues on behalf of the Palestinian people.’

The talks will be held initially between Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, representing Abbas, and Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, representing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. For the time being the leaders of the two states will not be present.

In 2010, talks broke down over the issue of Israeli settlements after only a few weeks. And with Israel refusing to halt settlement construction, there is no guarantee that a similar stalemate won’t soon be reached. However, with the support of the Arab League, and Kerry’s prioritization of a final solution to the conflict, it can be hoped that enough common ground may be found to at least keep a dialogue open. After nearly three years without any forward progress, the promise to sit down together at the negotiating table is at least an encouraging sign.