Indirect talks are expected to begin soon between Israel and Palestine, with US peace envoy George Mitchell doing his ping-pong thing around the Middle East trying to bring some kind of commitment to the table. Meanwhile, right-wing Zionist settlers march in East Jerusalem and Netanyahu continues his policy of intransigency over settlements, signalling the failure of Obama’s demands for a freeze before talks go ahead. The lack of concessions from the Netanyahu government and the soon-to-expire freeze on settlement in the West Bank means that Abbas will not meet with his Israeli counterpart directly – so we are back to another round of positive, productive, probably fruitless talks.
There are all sorts of reasons to be pessimistic about these. The recent suggestion that the US is instigating a new kind of pressure on the Israelis seems a little overstated; based on Obama’s recognition that resolving the conflict is in the interests of US national security (a view echoed, for the first time, by the military recently when Gen. David Petraeus wrote in his testimony to the Senate that the Israeli-Palestinian issue makes it difficult for the US to ‘advance its interests’ in the region), this fails to take into account the seemingly total lack of influence Obama has on the Israeli government. Even if there has been some kind of policy turnaround, it comes at an inauspicious moment – the breakdown of trust on both sides, the immovability of the Netanyahu administration and even Israel’s changing demographic mean that it’s unlikely that it will be successful.
Perhaps the time for talks is over, and the Obama government must impose some kind of international solution. Or perhaps international law and arbitration have never done and will never do anything for the Palestinian people, and negotiation is still the only way. Or perhaps it’s finally time to call it a day on the Middle East peace process. For now, though, the act of demand, concession, and refusal is to be played out once more. Insha’allah we’ll see something, but I’ve never been less hopeful.