Long Road to the Promised Land – Middle East Peace Talks Obama Style
by Gunter David
Presumably they serve good food at the White House. That is where the-face-to-face talks between Israel and the Palestinians began once again with a dinner on Wednesday evening. I don’t know the menu, but hopefully it started the negotiators on the right course.
Guests of President Obama included Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, and King Abdullah of Jordan and Hosni Mubarak, president of Egypt, whose countries have peace treaties with Israel. The latter two symbolize that peace between Israel and the Arabs is possible, but they won’t participate in negotiations.
Marring the new peace talks was a fatal shooting of four Israeli soldiers on the West Bank the day before.
Other problems hindering previous talks include the fact that Abbas governs the West Bank only, while the Gaza Strip and its 1.5 million inhabitants are controlled by Hamas, the terrorist organization with a history of firing rockets into Israel. Abbas has not been strong enough in the past, and there are no indications that his status has changed.
On the Israeli side, the major problem is the settlers. Some half-a-million Israelis live in the Palestinian West Bank, so called as it is on the west bank of the river Jordan. Among them are some 130,000 ultra orthodox, who believe that G-d promised the entire territory between the Jordan and the Mediterranean to the Jewish people. It was the land where kings David and Solomon ruled, where the 12 tribes of Israel settled following the exodus from Egypt. To any suggestion that they give up the land, they respond with the equivalent of “Hell no, we won’t go.”
Prime Minister Netanyahu, who essentially supports the settlers, under pressure from the U.S. imposed a moratorium on the construction of new settlements. It ends on Sept. 26. Construction of several hundred new homes by Israelis in East Jerusalem, where the Palestinians want to establish their capital, is a key issue.
Abbas has threatened to withdraw from the negotiations unless Netanyahu extends the moratorium.
But what will such an extension solve? Won’t it only be a postponement of what appears to be a problem that cannot be resolved? Religious faith dominates on both sides, along with Zionist and Palestinian nationalism.
And then there are the other long-standing issues: the future of Jerusalem, borders of the Palestinian state, and the return of Palestinian refugees to their homes, many of which are now in Israel.
There is a history of failed peace talks between the parties. The Nobel peace prize awarded to both sides some years ago underlines the irony of the past.
Will Israel and the Palestinians ever live side-by-side in peace? Consider the following, which Naomi Chazan, a former member of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, wrote in January, 2008, after what had been considered successful peace negotiations in Annapolis:
“The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has come full circle. The successful completion of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations following Annapolis, may, finally, complete the process that began with the adoption of the Partition Plan 60 years ago. Truth be told, no better alternative exists.”
Nothing has changed
Gunter David and his parents fled Germany, their native country, as soon as Adolph Hitler rose to power. They settled in Tel Aviv, in what was then Palestine, where Gunter grew up. He subsequently moved to the U.S., where he worked on major newspapers for 25 years. The Evening Bulletin of Philadelphia nominated him for the Pulitzer Prize. He has returned to Israel numerous times, as a newsman and to visit family and friends, and covered the Yom Kippur War in 1973. His second career was as a family therapist and addiction counselor. Dalia, his wife of 57 years, is also from Israel.