The U.S. will today announce that it will be hosting the first direct talks in 20 months between representatives of Israel and Palestine, setting a small but important goal for achieving peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that has consumed the Middle East for decades. The talks, planned for next month, are being coordinated with "the Quartet" of Middle East peacemakers: the U.S., United Nations, European Union, and Russia. These international actors hope to shepherd political reconciliation between Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Such a deal would, presumably, return Israel to its 1967 borders, with certain land swap deals to reflect changes in local demographics. Here are the major sticking points:
- Fixing Failures of Last Talk Proposals Foreign Policy's Josh Rogin writes, "The apparent compromise would result in a statement whereby the Quartet reaffirms a 'full commitment to its previous statements,' according to Reuters, a reference to the March 19 Quartet statement issued in Moscow, but doesn't explicitly repeat certain contentious language from that document. Among the disputed items in that statement, which Netanyahu ultimately rejected, were calls for a Palestinian state to be established in 24 months and for Israel to halt all settlement building, including natural growth of existing settlements, as well as building and evictions in East Jerusalem."
- Ongoing Israeli Settlements Risks Entire Project Al Jazeera reports, "One immediate obstacle for the negotiations could be Israeli settlements in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Netanyahu imposed a 10-month halt on settlement expansion in the West Bank last November. The freeze did not include East Jerusalem, and it has been routinely violated in the West Bank: The liberal Israeli group Peace Now documented 492 violations of the freeze in a report issued earlier this month. The expansion halt is due to expire altogether on September 26, and major new construction could heighten the pressure on Abbas to back out of the talks."
- The One-Year Time Limit The New York Times' Mark Landler explains, "While the details of the talks are not yet public, the one-year time limit is viewed as crucial because the Palestinians are leery of being drawn into an open-ended negotiation with Israel. Mr. Netanyahu has long said he is open to talks, but the Palestinians have been resistant, seeking assurances from the United States about the terms and conditions."
- Palestinians Still Struggling for Internal Reconciliation Al Jazeera notes, "Ismail Haniya, the Hamas leader in Gaza, criticised the expected announcement. Speaking after Friday prayers in Gaza, he said 'nothing has been achieved' to warrant direct talks with Israel. Haniyeh also said Palestinians should concentrate first on national reconciliation. The Hamas and Fatah movements have been estranged for years, and Egyptian attempts at mediation over the last few months have produced little progress."
- The Problem of Ending Settlements The Center for American Progress' Matt Duss warns that rolling back the Israel settlements, which many assume would be a feature of any peace deal, would be much more difficult than it might sound. "I was reminded of one of the tactics used by Israel hawks to downplay the negative impact of the settlements on the peace process, which is to insist that the settlements are not permanent, and that when the time comes the settlers can simply be sent to live somewhere else inside the newly established borders of Israel. ... the eventual withdrawal from these settlements — which will be necessary in any two-state agreement — will be enormously traumatic, both for the residents themselves and for Israel as a country. It will break up communities, cause people to abandon homes, schools, and places of worship. It will force them to dig up and move their dead."