By Dr. Chuck Missler
Israeli and Palestinian Authority representatives met in Amman on Tuesday evening to resume the beginning of face-to-face negotiations after a 16-month hiatus. Jordan’s King Abdullah hosted Tuesday's meeting, having zealously worked to kick start the peace process, which the "Quartet,"—the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations—has been actively promoting for months. The meeting ended with an agreement to continue informal talks, which is better than screaming and cursing.
"We do not want to raise our expectations at this stage, but we also do not want to underestimate the importance of the meeting, which gathered the Palestinians and the Israelis face to face," Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh said at a news conference after the Tuesday meeting.
There is a great deal of international pressure for Israel and the Palestinian Authority to sit and try to work things out. There were no expectations that major issues would be hammered out at Tuesday's meeting in Amman; it was meant to simply work out how the process could move forward. The Quartet has set a deadline of January 26 for the two sets of leadership to offer proposals on future borders and security, and the negotiations can proceed from there. The world is pleased to see that Israeli negotiator Yitzhak Molcho and his Palestinian counterpart Saeb Erakat were at least able to agree to keep meeting.
Neither side went to Amman with a desire to make concessions, though, and it's clear. Israel wants the Palestinians to enter the talks without preconditions, but the PA still wants the 1967 borders to be the basis of a two-state solution. In the meanwhile, Israel—desperate for places for people to live—has continued construction in the settlements around Jerusalem, despite international calls for a building freeze.
There are other serious issues. Israel's Regional Development Minister Silvan Shalom (Likud) noted that PA President Mahmoud Abbas met with terrorists in Turkey not long before the meeting with Israel in Amman. The PA is also still holding talks with Hamas, which rejects Israel’s right to exist. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has refused to negotiate with a Palestinian leadership that includes Hamas, and Hamas is not interested in peace with Israel. In fact, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum called the talks a "farce, comedy and a waste of time," in a phone interview with Bloomberg.
When Hosni Mubarak fell in Egypt, Abbas and Israel both lost their Egyptian support. Now, both countries are turning to Jordan's King Abdullah II, who also has the friendship of the United States.
There was one thing that Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and Jordan could all share concern about: the rise of political Islam as a result of the Arab Spring. "All three parties are very much concerned with the rise of Islamism, and that is part of what this meeting was about," said Zakaria al-Qaq, a political scientist at Al Quds University in East Jerusalem.
It is an uncertain time. The political Islam that has risen up in Egypt and Tunisia and Morocco appears to be more pragmatic than emotional, but only time will tell how it will behave as it matures.
While the renewal of talks offers hope for the peace process, though, there is little hope that either side will be willing to give an inch. They can't afford to.
Any time Israel has pulled out of an area, its security has been threatened. When Israel pulled out of Gaza in 2005 or left Lebanon in 2000, the land was taken over by Israel's enemies and used as a new staging ground for attack. Even the Sinai is now overrun by Islamic forces that want to destroy Israel. Asking Israel to give up more land absolutely ignores the very real increased security risk that Israel would face, especially considering the current instability in Egypt and Syria.
On Monday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak's office quoted him, saying,
"The Sinai could turn into a greenhouse for the flourishing of terror groups. In the north, there could be potential ramifications from Syria in the Golan Heights and indeed in wider territories as a result of Assad losing control."On the other hand, Jordan does not want to become the site of the Palestinian state, even though it has a significant "Palestinian" population. The Arab inhabitants of the West Bank and Gaza were not pleased that the meeting in Amman was held at all, since Israel has not frozen its construction of settlements. The Arabs want negotiations to resume on the basis of the 1967 borders, and nothing else will do.
Even if the meetings are a "farce" as Hamas suggests, they do at least offer a way to release a bit of the steam from the pressure cooker that is the Middle East. Both sides get to offer their proposals by January 26. We'll see what happens next.
Hamas calls Israeli-Palestinian meeting a 'farce' • Haaretz
Fatah, Hamas officials down on Amman talks • Jerusalem Post
Syria, Egypt and Middle East unrest - live updates • The Guardian
Palestinians Meet With Israelis, Agree to Hold More Talks • Businessweek
The New Egypt: We Will Never Recognize Israel • FrontPage Magazine