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Friday, September 17, 2010

Middle East Analysis: Another setback or a true chance at peace?

Middle East Analysis

Another setback or a true chance at peace?

Count me among the few who think something might actually come out of the latest direct talks between Israelis and Palestinians. My cautious optimism comes from the belief that every attempt at peace in the Middle East should be seen with a fresh eye and a fresh heart. This round has interesting characteristics that we shouldn’t ignore. A U.S. president very keen on being the one who brings peace, an Israeli Prime Minister who is changing his “tough talk” and acting more like a peace-maker, and a Palestinian leader who has no choice but peace as his people yearn for a state they can call their own and the right to a dignified life.

Although this week’s direct talks in Sharm El-Sheikh led to nothing concrete, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said of the parties, “They are committed. They have begun to grapple with the hard but necessary questions." The main contention at this point is the Israeli settlement freeze in the West Bank. Israel has refused to extend it and Palestinians threatened to pull out of the talks if settlement building resumes. At the conclusion of this round of talks, rhetoric from both sides seems to suggest a compromise will be reached but lips are tight as to the details.

There is something refreshing about a September handshake at the White House; especially when it ushers in a new wave of direct talks between Israelis and Palestinians as the handshake between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on September 1st did. While the symbolism cannot be missed and the hopes of the parties were made clear in rosy speeches, the reality is that the key to any successful talks remains in the hands of those missing from the photo-op rather than those in it.

The Netanyahu-Abbas handshake brought a flashback to September 13, 1993 when we all watched in awe two arch-enemies of the Middle East conflict shake hands on the White House Lawn. President Bill Clinton, the architect of the historic handshake, spoke of “the peace of the brave” on that day. You had to be “brave” if you’re the father of the Palestinian struggle for a homeland and call Yitzhak Rabin a “partner in peace.” Similarly, you had to be “brave” if you’re the decorated hero of Israel’s independence and shake on the future of the Jewish state with Yasser Arafat. At the time, that handshake was an unthinkable deed. It was original and daring as much as it was risky. No one knew what the outcome would be, and how Palestinians and Israelis would respond to the news and whether they were willing to stand behind their leaders to make the talks work.

Things moved fast then. I would even go as far as to say that at one point we could almost taste peace in the region. But just as the hopes were raised over a short period of time, all dreams were dashed in one hateful moment. On November 4, 1995, a young radical right-wing Orthodox Jew took the life of Israel’s “brave” man of peace. The assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin at the hands of a 25-year-old Yigal Amir exposed the rift within Israel on the issue of acknowledging the right of Palestinians to have their own state and finding peaceful ways to live side by side with them.

There were other attempts at renewing the peace talks but all of them failed miserably partly because some of the players had changed and the conditions were different. Perhaps the closest both sides came to clinching a deal was at Camp David in 2000. Although the jury is out on this one, many believe that it was a missed opportunity when Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat hesitated and walked away with no deal.

Today, we’re seeing direct talks again thanks to a series of White House handshakes on September 1st. The main players are different and at some kind of disadvantage: Despite his charisma and stated commitment to peace, President Obama remains untested in international politics and negotiations. Prime Minister Netanyahu will have a hard time selling any peace deal with major concessions to his own government and the country at large. President Abbas represents only a portion of the Palestinians that doesn’t include Hamas which already sent its message with deadly attacks on Jewish settlers on the eve of the Washington talks.

Saudi Arabia has been a quiet observer but might hold the biggest key to any peace deal. First, Saudi Arabia can offer the Palestinians financial support to build the infrastructure of their future nation. Being the most influential among Arab nations, it can rally Arab support for the peace talks and any deals resulting from them. King Abdullah was Crown Prince when he proposed normalizing relations with Israel back in 2002. Arab states unanimously approved the initiative at the 2007 Arab Summit in Saudi Arabia. King Abdullah has been championing reform, constantly calling for interfaith dialogue and pushing an agenda of change in his ultra-orthodox Islamic country, against much opposition from clerics and fundamentalists. The upcoming arms deal with the U.S., described as the largest sale of U.S. weapons overseas ever, is already seen in some circles as a piece of the puzzle for any deal to be born of the direct talks.

What the U.S. should do is bring to the table, if not Hamas representation, at least a country that can dialogue with the group and get their perspective on the negotiating table. Syria is home to the Hamas headquarters and can play that role. Syria has also been involved in indirect talks with Israel via Turkey over the fate of the Golan Heights. So, Syria’s silence over the renewed talks could be a prelude to joining the negotiating table perhaps after Israelis and Palestinians agree on initial terms.

Of course there are many skeptics about the direct talks and I totally see their point. This is an age-old conflict with fundamental issues of disagreement. It witnessed over the years very few successes and an overload of setbacks. History teaches us that peace is attainable albeit at a high price. Talking face to face is a first step to peace. I, for one, want to give these direct talks a chance and will let them prove on their own how effective or ineffective they are.

19 Comments:

Keep the conversation going...

Blogger Marina Mota said...

I am so proud to be the first one. Congratulations for the blog! I wish all the best in this new life. Love you.

September 17, 2010 at 9:49 AM  
Blogger Marina Mota said...

I am so proud to be the first one. Congratulations for the blog! I wish all the best in this new life. Love you.

September 17, 2010 at 10:04 AM  
Blogger Fernando F. said...

I'm the 2nd comment.... yeah !!!

Great web site... I'm at work so I'm just checking things very fast.
I hope to read about things going on in the Middle East with on objective perspective.
who needs CNN? :) (just kidding)

September 17, 2010 at 10:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Loving the new website, your analysis and everything in between! So happy for you, congratulations! p.s: Awesome pictures :)

September 17, 2010 at 11:05 AM  
Anonymous Jim Miller said...

Octavia,

Mabruk!!! and Congratulations on the new Site. Excellent "take" on the ME Peace talks. God Willing something good will happen from this. My fingers are "loosely" crossed.

September 17, 2010 at 3:10 PM  
Anonymous Antoine Alexandros said...

i think this is peace last chance, at least in Obama's presidency..
the US are building up for a war against Iran...
Hamas in Palestine and Hezbollah in Lebanon are becoming unbearable for Europe and USA
so let's hope, that direct negotiations will lead to a common ground between protagonists, cause war will be the other impending alternative

September 17, 2010 at 3:22 PM  
Blogger heba said...

Congratulations on your blog.............
i hope more success and active blog............love you

September 17, 2010 at 3:24 PM  
Blogger Julie said...

I love your opening and focus..."every attempt at peace in the Middle East should be seen with a fresh eye and a fresh heart." Another phrase comes to mind that reflects those sentiments more broadly, "If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always got." I agree with you wholeheartedly in looking towards the positives of what this discussion will bring.

September 17, 2010 at 3:46 PM  
Blogger John said...

Not a chance for success. Leaving out Hamas is bizarre .. it means that the US is working hand in glove with Israel's divide and conquer strategy. A significant portion of Palestinian population will continue to resist even if the Quislings give in. No success even if Obama declares that they have achieved something.

September 17, 2010 at 4:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Where there is talk there is hope !

T'embrasse

Anne

September 18, 2010 at 5:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Where there is talk there is hope !

Love all this

T'embrasse

September 18, 2010 at 6:05 AM  
Blogger Starshadow said...

I tweeted my reaction already, but this is a gorgeous, gorgeous site - I hope it attracts many visitors!

Excellent take on the peace talks. Look forward to future blog posts! :)

September 18, 2010 at 10:47 AM  
Blogger jeannine said...

Please enter my name on your mailing list. I might forget to check your blog and miss too much.
You are the voice for many. I'd like to forward this to friend globally .....
CNN is falling apart without you and Christiane Amanpour!
J Athanasopoulou

September 20, 2010 at 11:02 AM  
Blogger Dustin said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

September 20, 2010 at 11:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What we going to do about Avigdor Lieberman, Silver Shalom, the Minister of Interior head of the SHAS party whose founder Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef calling, only a few days ago for the "Annihilation" of the Arabs and the Palestinians. I wish I could share Octavia's optimism in her cold analysis. The current Israeli Coalition Government is made up of a very hardline extreme right ideologues and are all bound by Netanyahu's Bar Illan University Policy Speech that he has been consistently repeating in all occasions. Freezing settelents should not be the issue. The issue should be the End of the Illegal Israeli Occupation of the Palestinian Territories in line with UN Resolutions 242 and 338.

Rajai Masri
A Palestinian

September 20, 2010 at 1:20 PM  
Blogger Germán 兄弟 خِرمن said...

Why was Octavia Nasr fired from CNN over some sincere posthumous respects to a great scholar of Islam, while Patricia Janiot can keep a job as CNN anchor after wishing a fugitive terrorist 'good luck'? Check this out: http://nureinwort.blogspot.com/2010/09/cnn-wishes-terrorist-good-luck.html

September 20, 2010 at 5:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What about the role of Egypt; it is conspicuously absent from Octavia's analysis. I cannot imagine a deal without a significant Egyptian role.

September 21, 2010 at 2:21 AM  
Blogger The voice said...

I wish I could be as positive as you Octavia...
The peace solution is simple... US should back down from supporting Israel, cut the $3 billion/year funding, and the military support... and the Palestinians should shut down Hamas and make sure there will be no more attacks on Israel.
Maybe then Israel will see some sense and will stop being the bully in the Middle East, maybe then they will realize that it's not ok to steal your neighbours land, not to kick your neighbour out it's house and start to build yours, maybe then they will realize it's not ok to cut off the supplies (whether is food, water, medicine, building materials) for a whole nation.
Unfortunately the civilians on both sides are the looser in this situation, the civilians on both sides can live in peace and help each other, but the politicians won't let them... and that's a real shame...

Alina

September 21, 2010 at 9:05 AM  
Blogger shobhana said...

dear octavia - I think the world of you, but I cannot share your optimism over the latest peace talks. AIPAC is stronger than ever and has gained in the latest elections. Israel is calling the shots at all levels, dictating to England as well. Such blatant arm twisting.

November 4, 2010 at 6:18 PM  

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