Direct Israel-Palestine peace talks begin today, hosted by President Barack Obama at the White House. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas both join Obama to commence what will be the ninth round of U.S.-led Israel-Palestine peace talks over 31 years. Jordan’s King Abdullah and Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak will also be present. The process begins inauspiciously, with Palestinian group Hamas claiming the murders of four Israeli civilians, one of whom was pregnant, and Israeli settlers continuing the construction of West Bank settlements despite a U.S.-backed settlement freeze. Here's what observers have to say about Obama's approach at one of the longest running and most stubborn problems in U.S. foreign policy.
- U.S. Plan: Biweekly Meetings, Peace in One Year The Jerusalem Post's Hilary Leila Krieger writes, "US Mideast envoy George Mitchell on Tuesday night stressed the US belief in the possibility of the sides reaching an agreement within a year. ... He also began to sketch out the American perspective of how talks would proceed, embracing Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s suggestion that he meet personally with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas every two weeks."
- 4 Reasons Past Attempts Failed ABC News' Jake Tapper writes, "[U.S. Mideast envoy George] Mitchell indicated he’d studied the myriad previous failed attempts to broker a peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians and said there were four main lessons." There must be:
- “Frequent, direct contact between the leaders”;
- “Active, sustained participation” by the U.S.;
- “Broad international support” – which is why when Mitchell went to the region he would generally stop to visit with European and other leaders, and why Tony Blair – the Envoy to the Region from the Quartet (US, United Nations, European Union, and Russian Federation) – will be part of these talks;
- Efforts to create an atmosphere conducive to success, which is not always easy with countries that have a free and vigorous press that can sensationalize conflict. Mitchell seemed to be underlining here the need for participants to keep their mouths shut.
- Why We Can Be Cautiously Optimistic The New America Foundation's Andrew Lebovich writes, "In some ways, the situation is ripe for talks. Israelis seem to be growing increasingly uneasy with the settlement enterprise, there is at least tepid (albeit, very tepid) pressure from the White House for a resolution, and today the New York Times reports on the economic growth and emerging political and security stability in the West Bank long demanded by Israeli leaders as necessary for a peace deal. And yet all of the structural and political obstacles to a two-state solution remain; an extension of even the partial settlement freeze currently in place past the end of this month is in doubt, the political will of Israel's current leadership is in doubt, and violence from militant groups, disaffected Palestinians, and Israeli settlers could easily disrupt even a fledgling agreement."
- Why No One Expects Success The Guardian's Ian Black sighs, "No previous round of Middle East peace negotiations has begun with such rock-bottom expectations as the one being launched in Washington tonight. Neither side expects to be able to reach an agreement unless the US tries to impose one. And few believe that if Barack Obama does attempt that, Binyamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas will be able to live with it – the Israeli premier because of his fractious rightwing coalition and the Palestinian president because of Hamas opposition and wider despair over years of peace 'process' without change."
- Obama's Chief Challenge: Bringing Israel Around Israeli analyst Daniel Levy writes in the Huffington Post that Israeli leadership will be the determining variable in peace talks. "Netanyahu's actions and statements do not suggest a man standing at the precipice of a bold move to peace and de-occupation. Netanyahu formed an extreme right-wing coalition out of choice not necessity, insisted on those settlement expansion exemption clauses, has refused to enter negotiations with the Palestinians or Syrians on the basis of previously achieved advances, and is insisting on security arrangements, timelines, and unreciprocated and unilateral Palestinian acknowledgement of Israeli claims. The tantalizing thing that Obama will have to deliver here is an Israeli political yes. A solution cannot be imposed on Israel, clear choices can though be presented."