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What Do the New Israel-Palestinian Indirect Talks Mean?

Written by Barry Rubin

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The question of the day is whether the Israel-Palestinian Authority (PA) indirect talks will make progress in the "peace process" or result in failure. One wonders at this point how many naive people believe that peace is at hand, and how many misled people think that the lack of peace is Israel's fault.

What is needed to understand the issue is precisely what is not presented by policymakers, academics, and all-too-much of the mass media: The PA neither wants nor is capable of delivering a compromise peace agreement.

Radicalism within its ranks, in public opinion, and the ever-present challenge from Hamas ties the hands of leaders who are not so moderate themselves.

Belief that if they continue the struggle or keep saying "no" or subvert Western support for Israel they will get everything they want without giving up much is too tempting.

But can these specific talks at this specific time bring progress or failure?

Depends on what you mean by "progress"; depends on what you mean by "failure."

If one believes there will be a comprehensive peace agreement, then the result will be failure because the PA didn't want a comprehensive agreement to begin with, and both internal politics and intoxication in believing the Obama Administration will give them what they want is going to result in even more intransigence.

If the United States wants to impose a solution, the PA, sensing this will make sure the talks fail, have no incentive to make a deal. And any attempt after that by--let's be honest here--people who really don't understand the issues or how the region's politics work would bring disaster in the longer run.

If, however, one wisely uses the talks to reduce tension betwen the two sides and deal with more immediate problems that can be resolved--economic growth, security cooperation, ways to make the Palestinian Authority more stable politically, better for its people, and able to survive the Hamas challenge--the talks could be beneficial.

From an Obama Administration standpoint, if it takes a bow on its "great" work in getting indirect talks going (after its policy contributed to delaying them so long), it will be happy and find the talks beneficial for itself. It will also believe that the talks will soothe Muslims and Arabs, making its own policy task easier on other issues by getting Arab state support for, say, what the United States is doing with Iran sanctions or Iraq withdrawal or reducing terrorism against Americans. This is doubtful but it will make the administration, and perhaps its constituents, feel better.

If the talks become direct ones, then the world will rejoice, forgetting that this merely returns the situation to what existed--without great progress--in 2008. Indeed, direct Israel-Palestinian talks have been going on now for 17 years, with Israel offering a Palestinian state as an outcome of talks during that entire period, and offering the immediate opportunity for the Palestians to get a state with its capital in east Jerusalem and the equivalent of all the West Bank and Gaza Strip 10 years ago.

And, by the way, when will any Western mainstream media actually report what Israel wants in a peace settlement: security guarantees, dropping of all further Palestinian claims, a non-militarized state without foreign armies on its soil, resettlement of all Palestinian refugees in Palestine, and recognition of Israel as a Jewish state in response to recognition of Palestine as an Arab state? Might these things be just as relevant as Palestinian demands for a state, the dismantlement of Jewish settlements, and territorial demands?

Until Western leaders understand why there hasn't been progress and set their policies accordingly how could there be any real success in resolving this issue?

*Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books, go to http://www.gloria-center.org.

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