Interim deal may be best option in pursuit of accord between Israel and Palestinians
Difficult choices lie ahead for both sides as they seek a lasting agreement
Israeli justice minister Tzipi Livni (c) speaks to reporters in the lobby of the United Nations after her meeting with UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon (unseen) in New York on July 29th, 2013. Livni was en route to Washington for peace talks with the Palestinians. Photograph: Carlo Allegri/Reuters
It’s almost 20 years since then-Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat signed an historic peace agreement on the White House lawn following secret negotiations in Oslo, Norway.
Israel withdrew from large parts of the West Bank and Gaza but a wave of terror attacks swept over Israel. Mr Rabin was assassinated, settlement construction continued and Hamas seized control of Gaza. The Oslo process came to a halt and Middle East peace remained as elusive as ever.
Israeli and Palestinian negotiators are in Washington again this week in yet another attempt to narrow the gaps and sign a comprehensive peace deal resulting in the creation of an independent Palestinian state.
Gone is the euphoria from the Oslo period and the hope that accompanied subsequent attempts to end the conflict.
Both sides enter the talks in a sombre, if not pessimistic, mood. Even optimists admit that the minimum Israel’s right-wing leader Binyamin Netanyahu will likely be able to offer will fall significantly short of what Mr Arafat’s successor, Mahmoud Abbas, would be willing to accept.
US secretary of state John Kerry alluded to the difficulty of the process.
“It is no secret, therefore, that many difficult choices lie ahead for the negotiators and for the leaders as we seek reasonable compromises on tough, complicated, emotional and symbolic issues.”
Talks on a final peace deal are to take at least nine months and core issues will be discussed. The objective is a permanent agreement that settles all claims and is followed by an announcement of an end to the conflict.
Minister for justice Tzipi Livni and Mr Netanyahu’s special envoy Yitzhak Molcho will represent Israel while chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and Mr Abbas’s aide Mohammed Shtayyeh will represent the Palestinians.
“I feel a heavy burden of responsibility, but also great hope,” said Ms Livni, admitting the talks will be difficult.
She said Israel and the Palestinians have an opportunity, via negotiations, to find a solution to the conflict that has exacted a high price from both sides, stressing that it was in Israel’s interest, both in terms of security and remaining a Jewish and democratic state, to exhaust every possibility to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians.
The gaps on the core issues of Jerusalem, borders and Palestinian refugees remain wide, if not unbridgeable. And then there is the elephant in the room – the Gaza Strip, ostensibly an integral part of a future Palestinian state, but ruled by Hamas which remains opposed to any peace negotiations with Israel.
The difficulties facing the negotiators have prompted many analysts to believe that the most realistic option at this juncture is to aim for a long-term interim agreement, with Israel withdrawing from further areas of the West Bank. However, the Palestinians are reluctant to even consider such an option, believing that such deal would become permanent, further removing their dream of statehood.