Sorry to be pessimistic, but no. Whilst the Secretary of State John Kerry's efforts to bring both the Palestinian Authority and the Israelis back to the negotiating table should be lauded as a positive step, the obstacles to any potential peace agreement are still ever-present, numerous and seemingly, at the moment, unsolvable.
Before entirely denouncing the potential success of these talks and condemning the Palestinian and Israeli people to another generation of systemic violence, it is important to highlight what has changed since the last peace talks, and how this will impact upon the current peace talks in a positive way.
Firstly, perhaps the most pertinent factor as to why an agreement could be nearer than expected is time. Palestinians and Israelis are fed up with the status quo; for the former, fed up with living in an area where poverty and corruption is endemic, lusting for their right to self-determination. For the latter, fed up of living in fear of when the next rocket attack may be or if they may be called up into the IDF in a state of war. Apathetic, angry, dismayed and worried are just a few adjectives which illustrate the mind-sets of both the Israeli and Palestinian people after years of failed peace proceedings, and there is real pressure on both the Israeli government and Palestinian Authority to broker a lasting peace resolution.
Moreover, on the Israeli side, the coalition government is relatively stable, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is coming up to his fifth year in office; since 1992, only one Prime Minister has been in office longer than four years continuously. This should not be underestimated in an Israeli political system where government change is frequent, and continuity is the best policy for these peace talks. Netanyahu, personified as a right-wing hawk in the media, has shown conciliatory moments in the quest for peace in the past, issuing a moratorium on settlement construction in the West Bank prior to the last peace talks, and recently vowed to release over 100 Palestinian prisoners after having initially said that Israeli would not accept any preconditions for peace talks.
However the challenges cannot, and will not, be underestimated by both sides. Among the main historic issues are:
•Water- perhaps the most understated issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Water is in extremely short supply in the region with the only real freshwater sources being Lake Kinneret and the Mediterranean Coastal Aquifer, and should the Palestinian State ever come close to fruition, it will be a behemoth issue in terms of the distribution and division of water.
•Borders- often when Israeli-Palestinian peace talks are discussed, you hear certain buzzwords like "Green Line", "67 borders" or pre-borders", and this illustrates the sheer disparity within both the Israeli and Palestinian people. Factions within each want very different borders with some basing their definition of borders on religious texts, others on the results of previous wars as well as some simply basing it on realpolitik.
•Jerusalem- the Super Bowl of issues. A religious centre for all three Abrahamic faiths, it's status is incredibly disputed, with both sides claiming it and both extremely belligerent on the issue.
•Settlements- the vast settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are huge literally physical obstacles to peace. Realistically, they are here to stay, with resolution only feasible through land swaps; even then the religious zealots in some of these settlements will be hard to deal with.
•Right of return- Jewish people currently have the right of return to the State of Israel, whereby they are automatically granted citizenship. The Palestinians want a right of return for the Palestinian refugees who lived in the geographic modern State of Israel-again something extremely unlikely to occur
These are the fundamental issues to any peace agreement, but in addition to this, there are also many practical problems that will hinder an agreement to a two-state solution. Firstly, the civil strife within both the Palestinian and Israeli people is wide-ranging and on-going.
The Palestinian Authority in the West Bank led by the Fatah Party have had a long and brutal war with Hamas, who govern the Gaza Strip. Indeed, when Hamas "won" the legislative elections in the Gaza Strip in 2006, many Fatah officials were thrown off buildings. Nevertheless, there have been recent efforts to reconcile the two, culminating in an agreement in 2011; these reconciliation attempts were scuppered though with disagreements about who would be Prime Minister, as well as the recent coup d'état of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, who mediated these talks.
In Israel, the divisions are even more numerous. There are divides between both religious and secular, left and right, libertarian and authoritarian, as well as anti-Zionist parties as well. The last three governments show this remarkably well (Israel has a proportional representation system and therefore is almost always governed by wide coalition governments):
- 33rd (current) government: Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu (right-wing secular), Yesh Atid (centre-right), The Jewish Home (right-wing religious), Hatnuah (centre-left)
- 32nd government: Likud (centre-right), Yisrael Beiteinu (right-wing secular), Shas (right-wing religious), Labour/Independence Party (centre-left), The Jewish Home (right-wing religious), United Torah Judaism (right-wing religious), Kadima (centre- and only in it for three months!)
- 31st government: Kadima (centre), Labour Party (centre-left), Shas (right-wing religious), Yisrael Beiteinu (right-wing secular), Gil (pensioner's party!)
Furthermore, in addition to these aforementioned problems is the entire concept of the two-state solution. As well as the problems of reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas, the geographic problem of the West Bank and Gaza Strip being on different sides of the country means a Palestinian state would be extremely hard to develop logistically, socially and economically. The vast variety of factions within the Palestinian and Israeli people also cast doubt over the two-state solution; some advocate one-state, some two-state, even some three-state.
We know that it can only be good news that the Israelis and Palestinians are at the negotiating table again. However, a peace agreement is a long, long way off with a whole host of issues and factions hindering any possible peace deal, with the near and long term future indicating that these will remain unresolved.
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