Middle East peace talks resume in Jerusalem
John Kerry determined to clinch deal despite scepticism
Arab neighbourhoods in east Jerusalem are seen in the background as tourists walk along a wall surrounding Jerusalem’s old city yesterday. A 10-minute drive from where negotiators will sit down today to resume long-stalled Middle East peace talks, Israeli bulldozers are busy reshaping land that Palestinians want for their future state. Photograph: Reuters
Israeli and Palestinian negotiators will convene today in Jerusalem in another effort to reach a comprehensive peace agreement resulting in the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.
Previous attempts to clinch a peace deal ended in failure, followed by waves of terror that were met with a harsh Israeli military response.
The atmosphere on the eve of the talks was best summed up by a cartoon in the Israeli newspaper Ha’artez that showed Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas sitting at a table playing a board game called “the Blame Game”.
But despite the scepticism US secretary of state John Kerry is determined to a clinch a peace deal.
At preliminary discussions last month in Washington it was decided to allocate nine months for the talks, with the venue alternating every few weeks between Jerusalem and the West Bank.
The talks will be held in secret and will be closely managed by US mediator Martin Indyk, who will sit in on some of the discussions. The aim is to get down to business as quickly as possible, away from the glare of the media, and avoid leaks that may harm the chances of concluding a final-status agreement.
All the core issues – borders, security, Jerusalem, water and refugees – will be discussed in tandem.
Meeting a key Palestinian condition, Israel agreed to release the first batch from a total of 104 veteran Palestinian prisoners on the eve of the talks. The 26 detainees were due to be released at crossing points to the West Bank and Gaza after midnight Israeli time.
The windows on the buses carrying the prisoners were locked shut to avoid Israel the embarrassment of the morning newspapers showing the prisoners, nearly all of whom were convicted of killing Israelis, flashing V signs on their way home.
The Palestinians have an incentive to stay at the talks as Israel insisted on linking future prisoner releases to progress in the negotiations.
Senior Palestinian official Yasser Abed Rabbo warned that Israel’s determination to press ahead with settlement construction could torpedo the talks.
“Settlement expansion goes against the US administration’s pledges and threatens to cause the negotiations’ collapse. This settlement expansion is unprecedented. It threatens to make talks fail even before they’ve started,” he said.
Bloomberg columnist Jeffrey Goldberg quoted Mr Kerry warning Mr Netanyahu in recent weeks that if the current peace talks bear no fruit Israel may soon be facing an international delegitimisation campaign – in his words – “on steroids.”
The recent decision by the European Union to cut all funds to any Israeli enterprise over the 1967 green line caused shock waves in Israel and was described by minister Tzipi Livni, who will head the Israeli negotiating team at the peace talks, as a wake-up call.
Mr Netanyahu’s biggest fear is that a campaign to isolate and delegitimise Israel would erode Israel’s ability to defend itself, particularly if it is forced to act unilaterally to stop Iran acquiring a nuclear bomb.