Palestinian and Israeli peace negotiators have given themselves a nine-month deadline to reach a deal.
Negotiations began in Washington on Monday, with representatives of both sides breaking bread with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
Countering widespread skepticism, Kerry said, “We cannot pass along to another generation the responsibility of ending a conflict that is in our power to resolve in our time.”
Still, the leadership of both Israel and the West Bank (Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, disapproves of these negotiations), are making things difficult to say the least.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has promised to put any deal leading to Palestinian statehood before a national referendum, a promise that his cabinet has been working to make a matter of law. That may seem very democratic and reasonable, but it severely undercuts the mandate of chief Israeli negotiator Tzipi Livni, who said of the talks, “We are hopeful, but we cannot be naive.”
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said there could not be a resolution with “a single Israeli—civilian or soldier—on our lands.” Israeli settlers have staked claim to Palestinian lands, with government backing, in violation of international law. The spread of settlements derailed the last effort at peace negotiations, and the forced removal of settlers by Israel from Gaza in 2005 proved difficult. Again, reasonable demands, but more pressure and obstacles for the negotiators in Washington to grapple with.
Although there is plenty of reason for skepticism, both sides are pretty much laying their cards on the table, and their cards are well known at this point. Palestinian leaders want Israel, including its settlers, soldiers and checkpoints, on the other side of the pre-1967 borders. Israeli leaders aren’t going to do anything to upset a majority of the population anyway, so why not put it to a vote?
A glimmer of optimism comes from Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian top negotiator, who observes that “No one benefits more from the success of this endeavor more than Palestinians.”
Major source article: Reuters
—Posted by Peter Z. Scheer
Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat at the State Department in Washington, D.C.