Will they be able to jump-start the Middle East peace process?
|Reuters reports that the Israeli and Palestinian leaders will meet today, Thursday, to try to get stalled talks going again. But there is concern that it will take outside intervention to break the logjam over Israel's continued East Jerusalem building program.|
Still no sign of progress toward peace
|The Washington Post carried an editorial comment today about the noisy exchange over Israel's plan to build more homes in Har Homa overlooking Bethlehem. The point is that it is a marginal issue when both sides know there will be land swaps in a final solution for Jerusalem. True. But wisdom would suggest that provocation of any kind is not the path to meaningful and just peace.|
Can a man of war transform himself into a man of peace?
|Shimon Peres has his own blog in association with the newspaper Haaretz. In the entry for December 23 he reminisces about the UN vote that made the Jewish State possible 60 years ago in November 1947. In an editorial I wrote after an interview with him a few years ago in Jerusalem I commented on his journey from hawk to dove.|
A sure pathway to remaining locked in conflict
As Reuters reported yesterday, despite the apparent progress made at Annapolis recently, this past weekend Israel confirmed that in 2008 it will build 740 additional homes in two locations—Har Homa/Abu Ghneim (500) and Maale Adumim (240), areas captured by Israel in the 1967 war. Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas understandably protested.
Today (Monday) a second round of talks is to begin in Jerusalem between Abbas and Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert. Whatever may be going on in the background (Olmert is politically weak and pressured by rightist partners), such moves do not serve the cause of peace, exacerbate tensions and render a negotiated future much more difficult. As historian Barbara Tuchman put it so well in her book, The March of Folly, governments continue to behave in ways destructive to their best interests long after it has become apparent to all that they are doing so and despite feasible alternatives—in a kind of disastrous lockstep.
Is Middle East peace a distant dream?
In a report from the Israel Project attention is directed to the plight of Palestinian Christians whose numbers have dwindled in recent years. The site of Jesus' birth has been hard hit. As the report notes, "Bethlehem in particular has seen a dramatic decline in its Christian population. Of Bethlehem’s 30,000 residents, less than 20 percent are Christian. In 1948 though, more than 85 percent of the town’s inhabitants were Christian." In the West Bank and Gaza the drop in numbers is even more dramatic. Once at 15% of the Palestinian population (1948), Christians now represent only 1½%. Muslim persecution is certainly one of the reasons for the decline as the report shows.
Though religious tolerance is usually relegated in discussions about the peace process, without mutual respect between Christians, Muslims and Jews, progress in the Middle East will remain a distant dream. The issue of Jerusalem's declining Christian population is a subject I treat in Identity, Ideology and the Future of Jerusalem.
Some in Israel open to a Palestinian State
|Israel's Foreign Minister said at the recent Paris meeting of 70 countries to address funding issues for the Palestinians led by President Mahmoud Abbas that a Palestinian state is in Israel's interest. This is precisely the same argument made to me by Israel's current President, Shimon Peres, several years ago.|
Israel also has an opportunity to reach a hand out in the interest of peace
|French president Nicolas Sarkozy is hosting a one-day conference in Paris, where Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad will seek over $5 billion over the next three years from mostly Arab states to stave off economic collapse. Whether Israel will ease travel restrictions in Gaza and the West Bank in the wake of the Annapolis talks remains to be seen.|
|The continuing international impasse over Iran's nuclear program was notched up last week by the UK's foreign secretary David Miliband. He issued a warning in the pages of the Financial Times.|
|Yesterday, Condoleezza Rice expressed criticism of Israel's attempt to continue building in East Jerusalem's Har Homa/Abu Ghneim.|
|A video well worth watching from the Brookings Institution|
|Michael B. Oren, author of arguably the best account of the Six Day War, had an op-ed piece in the New York Times this weekend. It makes the point that Annapolis succeeded not so much as a peace conference but as a prelude to further conflict in which moderate Middle Easterners of all stripes will oppose the"extremism" of Iran.|
According to the end of day statements, the Annapolis meetings set December 12 as the date for substantive Israeli-Palestinian final status talks in a projected year-long process.
I have noted elsewhere that only when there is a fortuitous collision of interests and outside interventions does momentum shift in the century long conflict over Jerusalem (a microcosm of the larger impasse). It seems such a crucial shift might be round the corner.
According to the Economist magazine, the Annapolis conference "ended with a commitment to the goal of a Palestinian state, and a promise of immediate talks, but with no mention of borders, Jerusalem or Jewish settlements on the West Bank. Hamas, the rejectionist Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip, held a huge rally and denounced Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president."