Give Peace (Negotiations) a Chance

News Abroad

Nimrod Hurvitz is a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Middle East Studies, Ben Gurion University, Israel.

It is easy to dismiss the direct peace negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis as an act of hopeless diplomacy.  The false starts of the past and undisguised distrust of the present make Obama's peace initiative seem like an act of desperation.  Yet despite the stumbling blocks that judicious observers of the Middle East enumerate, there are also reasons to believe that this time around the negotiations will succeed.

What do these negotiations have going for them?  Surprising as it may seem, the answer is the credibility of the Israeli and Palestinian leaders.  This is the first time that Mahmoud Abbas, a Palestinian leader who believes in dialogue and has openly admitted that the Second Intifada was a mistake, will lead formal negotiations and not a hypothetical "shelve plan."  Another indication of Abbas's commitment to talk peace and reject violence is the Palestinian Authority's efforts to subdue Hamas terrorism.

Netanyahu has also demonstrated credibility and pragmatism.  In his declaration about two states he recognized the Palestinians' right to establish a state.  His willingness to freeze construction in the settlements reveals that he can be pragmatic when he thinks it serves Israel's best interests.  His history shows that he is capable of handing over land to the Palestinians, as he did in Hebron.

Netanyahu and most of his security cabinet are pragmatic right-wing leaders. Although such leaders harbor a strong distrust towards Palestinians, in the past they have shown that they are capable of talking to their enemies if negotiations promote Israel's interests, or enable Israel to evade diplomatic crises.  They are not part of the extreme nationalist-religious right that opposes the principle of a peace process and is willing to pay any price to hold on to all of the land of Israel.  Furthermore, it should be noted that Netanyahu's recent rhetoric is focused on Israel's security and not its inalienable right to the holy land.

A second factor that works in favor of these negotiations is that their success serves the interests of Israel, the Palestinians and the Americans, whereas failure spells crisis for all three.

Israel wants to see a weakened and dwindling Hamas, as opposed to a popular Islamist movement that is powerful enough to make a bid for control of the West Bank.  Since a viable Palestinian state under Mahmoud Abbas's leadership will wreck havoc on the popularity of Hamas, it is Israel's interest to enable such a state to be established.  Furthermore, a peace agreement with the Palestinians will improve Israel's position in the international arena.  It will generate more peace agreements with other Arab and Muslim countries, and it will ward off pressure from Europe and the United States.  Successful negotiations will reverse Israel's descending international legitimacy.

For the Palestinians this is a chance to attain their dream—an independent state.  With a state at hand, an improving economy and a society that enjoys law and order, the Palestinian Authority has a good chance to improve its standing among Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, and deal Hamas, its mortal enemy, a serious blow.

Lastly, a peace agreement is an American interest.  Under the Obama administration American leaders, civil and military, have spoken about peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians as an American interest.  In the past American presidents such as the detached President Bush or the engaged President Clinton encouraged the peace process.  However, neither the presidents nor the military leadership stated that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is hurting America. Obama conveys a clear message—the United States wants this agreement to happen.  As Obama sees it, an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement will help the moderate regimes in the Arab and Islamic world maintain their grip on power.  The stability of these regimes is an important part of America's global policy and its struggle against extreme Islamic organizations.  Failure complicates American interests in the region.

Neither Netanyahu nor Abbas can afford to trip their most valued ally and take the blame for failure of the negotiations.  That was reason enough for them to enter the direct talks and it may be reason enough for them to stay involved a long time.  Gradually, they may find themselves at the point of diplomatic no return.  That is the moment when they may get offers they will not want to refuse.

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omar ibrahim baker - 9/11/2010

I do not speak for Palestinian Arabs so I can not answer your question on their behalf.

The TWO STATES seem to be the only ,remotely, possible way out at this junction.
I do NOt oppose it nor, I guess, would a Palestinian majority if it meets their minimal RIGHTS on LAND, Jerusalem and Security noted earlier.

N. Friedman - 9/11/2010


So, what is this talk about a two state solution, if that is something you do not accept? Are you saying that Palestinian Arabs now do accept that idea or that you view it as an interim solution? In any event, please explain yourself.

omar ibrahim baker - 9/11/2010

the above falls in and meshes with my A PALESTINE for ALL PALESTINIANS; no change of tune here!

N. Friedman - 9/10/2010


You seem to have changed your tune, from implacably opposed to a two state solution to favoring one. Why brought this change of heart in your thinking?

omar ibrahim baker - 9/10/2010

There will always be people in both camps that will reject a settlement.
The real question is whether there will be enough of them to actually obstruct it or scuttle it; if one is at this junction , or ever, reached.

With the TWO STATES being the only feasible option at this junction the way to reduce the numbers of opponents and further its chances of survival would be for the prospective Palestinian state to be a real viable and contiguous state with enough, i.e. adequate :
-Jerusalem and
for the rebuilding of an Arab Palestinian Palestine in Palestine that would meet the minimal requirements of the Palestinians, both resident and émigré.

That would, I guess, automatically disqualify a mini state next to a mega Israel, a Liechtenstein , or a symbolic, token, presence in Jerusalem at the mercy of the strong land neigbour whose expansionist designs and aspirations need no further elaboration.

That would also disqualify, the latest semi floated fad of a "temporary" state with the implicit intention of its proponents of making it the permanent "state let".

What should be kept in mind is that we believe there is absolutely no hurry in achieving that no matter Abbas and Fatah may, for reasons of their own, think.
All that of course depends on whether the settlement is meant to be durable or NOT!

Despite all that Palestinians have been through they do NOT consider themselves as being finally and irrevocably defeated nor that they at the junction where submission is their only option.
Many regional developments, sure to be ultimately reflected in Western then universal attitudes and policies, indicate an Israel that has reached the peak of its power, despite its soon to be broken nuclear monopoly,that has exhausted a great deal of the universal good will that assisted it in its formative years and is slowly approaching the stage of becoming counterproductive to, a burden on, those that made it what it is today!

IN other words I ,among many, believe the tide that made it in the first place and sustained it this far is ebbing!

Hence, I contend, Israel’s need for a durable peace is crucial though certainly not pressing for the very present time.

It is a question of time, perseverance and steadfastness AND future developments of the SCOPE, both human and geographical, of the conflict that has certainly surpassed, and overflowed from, historical, sea to river, Palestine!!
Palestinians both residing in their homeland (some 40% of the total present population of Palestine) and émigré had shown great ability at steadfastness and of perseverance and can wait!
I am ceaselessly amazed and heartened, you will be gravely alarmed, at what the younger generations think and are willing to undergo and do in the defense of their homeland.

N. Friedman - 9/10/2010


If Hamas wants no settlement, none will occur. And, it does not matter whether Abbas has or does not have a technical majority. What does matter is that there is a violent, ideologically committed group - i.e. of people akin to Hamas - with sufficient backing from a large enough group, who will never agree to a compromise and who will use violence towards that end, the very thing that is necessary to reach a settlement.

I might also add: there will have to be a compromise by Palestinian Arabs on three other issues: the offspring of the origin displaced persons will not settle in what become Israel, Israel will be recognized as the homeland of the Jewish people and the settlement agreement must be the end of the dispute. If that occurs, the Israelis will be willing to cede enough land to form a viable state for the Palestinian Arabs.

N. Friedman - 9/10/2010


Art addressed your exact argument. The amount of property owned had no relevance to Partition. What mattered was to form a state that was majority Palestinian Arab and another state that was majority Jewish. In both states, people would be free to own land.

A. M. Eckstein - 9/10/2010

That's just blather, Omar; you can't answer my arguments.

omar ibrahim baker - 9/10/2010

Your failure to address issues that YOU RAISE like, most recently, land "legally " owned by Jews in Palestine,only goes to prove your intelectual and moral bankruptcy.

art eckstein - 9/9/2010

The Palestinians could have had their own state in 1947. Led by the genocidal madman Husseini, a wanted war-criminal in Europe and their chosen leader, they instead started a war. They lost. The original Partition, I repeat, was to create Jewish areas where there were FEW Palestinians, and Palestinian areas where there were FEW Jews. Don't you understand that? The demarcation lines were not arbitrary, Omar.

So much for the land situation in 1947. Then the Palestinians started a war, and they were winning for five months, but eventually they lost, despite the intervention of five Arab national armies. The result was that Israel ended up with more land than under the original Partition. But Omar, you can hardly whine about losing land in a war that you started!

Peter Kovachev - 9/8/2010

A happy, healthy and propsperous New Year to all; HNN staff, guests, friends and others.



omar ibrahim baker - 9/8/2010

Ultimately it is neither crucial nor decisive whether Hamas supports or opposes a " peace agreement” in the unlikely case one is attained.
What is important and decisive is that a clear, unequivocal MAJORITY of Palestinians support it or opposes it.

That would, of course, depend on whether it meets the minimal prerequisites of a real viable, and contiguous state with enough, i.e. adequate:
- Land
to enable them, both residents and returning émigré, to re establish a real life for themselves and for their children in their own homeland!

As things stand and going by the so called "international consensus" that seems hardly attainable at this stage.

Professorial and other concerned parties' contributions, to be truly constructive and meaningful, should consider and dwell on what makes a "real state" always recalling that it would be housed in the Palestinians' own historical and legitimate homeland and will not be presented to them, or promised them, in an other people's land !

Ephraiyim ben Yisrael - 9/8/2010

Unfortunately, even if it is true that Abbas is more reasonable than past Palestinian negotiators, it matters little. Abbas is not a part of Hamas. In fact they barely speak to one another.
To think that any agreement reached would ever be supported by Hamas is ridiculous. If anything Israelis will have their hopes for peace raised once more only to have them dashed to pieces again when the majority of Palestinians refuse to acknowledge or abide by it.
The Jews are again being set up and the best thing that could happen is that they would wake up to it and collectively refuse to give up any land for less than a scant possibility of Peace.
Doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result defines insanity I heard said by one famous Jew by the name of Albert E. Seems his brothers and sisters could learn something from that.

omar ibrahim baker - 9/8/2010

"Every piece of land held by Jews in 1947 " BUT that was only some 7%;
that hardly qualifies them to dominate 68% of Palestine as they did by conquest in 1948!
The balance, even after subtracting
"state domain" out of which they were qualified to a pro rata share, being land "looted" from its legitimate Palestinian Arab owners to which they were denied the Right to Return to and to repossess.

I note , though, with interest, amazement and rejection your "theory of nation building by land purchase "...still untenable as it is in the case of Palestine with only some 7% out of 100%!

Unsurprisingly that theory of yours is a real inane quirk that could make, now or sometime in the near future, of ,say, Manhattan a Japanese (?) domain!
Your subsequent digression only proves the vacuity of your "logic" and confirms its triviality..Prof!

Is that what you teach your students Prof?

omar ibrahim baker - 9/7/2010

If it makes you feel better to say that about a small army that fought Israel to the ground several times that is OK with me .

art eckstein - 9/7/2010

Every piece of land held by Jews in 1947 had been sold to them by willing Palestinians. Omar, in his ignorance, assumes that all the rest was owned by individual Palestinians, but a great deal of it was owned by no private person, but by the Mandate, by the state.

Furthermore, the WHOLE IDEA behind the Partition as the UN organized it was that there should be FEW Palestinians in Israel, and few Jews in the putative Palestinian state. So, FEW Palestinian owned areas were included in proto-Israel (otherwise the whole idea of Partition would have been undermined), and vice versa for the putative Palestinian state.

The expansion of Israel to the 1948-1967 borders happened because the Palestinians refused the Partition and instead attacked their neighbors. For five months they were winning a war they started; then they lost the war they started. There were territorial consequences, which would not exist if the Palestinians hadn't started their war. It was natural for them to do so, however, given that they were led by the genocidal Husseini, a wanted war-criminal in Europe for crimes committed under the Nazis!

Peter Kovachev - 9/7/2010

I must have confused "political parties." I guess you mean the Iranian-sponsored Islamofascist heroes who destroyed what was left of Lebanon, who hid behind civilian skirts and and were saved by a weak Israeli government, the ever-obedient UN, a ceasefire and terrified promises to be good. You don't actually think this shtik will work again, do you?

omar ibrahim baker - 9/7/2010

No Hizb Allah is an armed Islamic, Shiite,political party that compelled Israel to evacuate South Lebanon in 2000, exchanged prisoners with Israel several times and fought Israel for 30 days ,to a virtual stand still, in 2006; as you well know !

Peter Kovachev - 9/7/2010

Come now, Omar, isn't Hezbullah just an unarmed humanitarian organization, as guaranteed by the brave UN?

Peter Kovachev - 9/7/2010

Of course you like the *Time* magazine "article," Jimmy. Its main thesis, after all, is that Jews care more about money than peace. Really. It also warns us that if the peace talks fail, it will guessed right again...Israel's fault. Naturally.

And take a gander at *Time's* "poignant" cover; not as crude as Newsweek's a while back, the one depicting six all-blue Galil rifles in the shape of a Star of David, but just as clever....and quite "illustrative," as you say.

The central question for the rest of us, Jimmy, is will this latest example of exploratory mainstream media antisemitica succeed in making antisemitism palable in American polite society? My guess is not; most Americans don't respond very well to clumsy propaganda or to antisemitism, no matter how cleverly tarted-up. You and your jolly ilk, though, will surely lap it up like warm milk. Slurp, slurp, yum. But just in case, everyone else in your admirable circles hasn't caught up to you on this issue, you might keep on throwing a few random "anti-colonial" lines here and there as you have done again. This will maintain your credentials as a progressive...until you don't have to worry about such things.

And since when have you been a fan of the CIA and George Marshall, Jimmy? Or is your love selective, cherry-picking the right morsels to suit your peculiar apetite? Since we are on a theme here, can I presume that you share Marshall's well-known views on American Blacks and Jews as well?

omar ibrahim baker - 9/7/2010

"sold it"??
As a professor of history??, you should pay more respect for the truth and for historical fact!

All that Jews ever owned pre 1948 in Palestine was some 7% as often demonstrated to you based on British Land Survey Dept figures!
7% out of a 100 % hardly qualifies for your "it"!

art eckstein - 9/6/2010

The "legitimate owner" of the land either (a) sold it voluntarily before 1948, or (b) lost it in a war he himself started, led by a genocidal maniac (Amin al-Husseini) who was a wanted Nazi war-criminal in Europe.

omar ibrahim baker - 9/6/2010

We have been here before:
why give up the loot since its legitimate owner cannot regain it the way we got it in the first place ,by force, and we have an increasingly servile USA paying and supporting us to keep it?
Why indeed?
Except that:
-a loot can be lost the way it was won.
Kovachev and ilk has only to consider the pain ,loss and destruction inflicted on Israel by what is, by any standard, a minor force, Hizb Allah, not long ago to realize that it is Israel which ultimately needs “peace” ie to return a substantial part of the loot to its legitimate owners should it hope to survive.

-sooner or later the USA will find out, with vengeance, that Israel is a huge liability and both Israel and its American auxiliaries dwelling in the USA will pay for it with unprecedented spite !
That would well be Israel's and world Jewry's fatal and final mistake.

james joseph butler - 9/6/2010

Peter your response is illustrative of Time magazine's cover story this week, "Why Israel don't care about peace",of course you're jaded and skeptical, you have every right to be. And more importantly Israel is fine with the status quo.

I watched a post war 1945 Palestine newsreel last night,a 20th Century Fox, Time and Life Magazine production, "Time Marches On". They were shown before movies in America. It was pure Israeli propaganda. The Jews, after surviving the Nazis, had at last found a home and boy were they making those swamps and deserts better places. The well off Palestinians who sold property were happy and the nomads got medical clinics. What's not to like?

Peter you have no viable peace partners because just like America did to its natives you've sliced and diced Palestine for generations and now you want it to coalesce and make peace. You reap what... I share your lack of optimism it's sad that America ignored George Marshall and the CIA who both stated(more or less)that Israel would be a pain in the ass for decades.

Peter Kovachev - 9/6/2010

Here we go again, yet another useless and most likely lethal "peace process." Once more we are all invited to engage in another willing suspension of disbelief, giddy optimistimism, a baksheesh basket of "confidence-building gestures," with the de rigeur Israeli territorial and security give-aways in exchange for useless Arab promises.

Abbas is neither a "moderate," nor even a legitimate "statesman" of a legitimate "government" he has been tarted-up as (i.e., with PA "elections" almost 2 years overdue, any promises Abbas signs can/will be easily dismissed). He is not a genuine "security partner" beyond saving his and PA's sorry hide from the Iranian-backed Hamas, even with Israel's descreet help, if need be. The reality on the ground which everyone seems to pretend not to see is that PA's incitement against Jews in the PA-controlled media, civil institutions and schools continues unabated, that the majority of "Palestinians" openly declare themselves as crude antisemites, and that what the PA says in English to the West, as opposed to in Arabic to its own people, is a brazen demonstration of cynical mendacity aided by the mainstream media.

The failure of this peace process farce is all but inevitable. It began with the ridiculous "proximity talks" and preconditions, Obama's unexpected and manufactured indignity over routine building permits in Jewish areas of Jerusalem. The most likely result will be another round of carefully orchestrated Arab riots and murderous terror attacks, dubbed as glorious grassroots "intifadas." Of course, as always, "confidence-building gestures" notwithstanding, it is Israel which will again be wholly blamed for Arab "frustration."

Fortunately, the Israeli public is not as gullible this time around, and doesn't buy the old calls for heroic "sacrifices for peace." They see what the Gaza give-away has wrought...murders, kidnapping, tunnels, and thousands of rockets targetting Israeli civilians, especially schools and malls. And in return for ethnicly cleansing its own people, all Israel received...and should expect to receive for any future give-aways... is international condemnation of any and all measures attempting to confront attacks against Israelis. They do not believe that the US, especially its current administration and the State Department, will be of any use in backing Israel's security concerns, much less that it will be able to "guarantee" security any better than UN has been able to keep Hezbollah from re-arming. The recent terrorist murder of four Israelis support their jaundiced view of such empty promises. The attack produced anemic generalized platitudes from the State Department, which cleverly avoided a clear condemnation until it was safely established that the attack was a Hamas, not a PA-related action.

Still, it is probably in Israel's interest to play nice and placate the Obami, without irreversably damaging Israel's security at least until the mid-term elections and to wait for real "hope and change" in 2012.

omar ibrahim baker - 9/6/2010

What is more important than a peace agreement, in the unlikely event one is attained at the present round, is whether it will actually include the ingredients that will make it endure and put a final end to what is quickly approaching into a hundred years war!
Those ingredients, the guarantors of durability, are first and foremost: a historical reconciliation between the two communities based on reciprocated and mutual sense of acceptance, of having substantially achieved what they have been fighting over for the last 9-10 decades and of attaining what they believe to be rightly and legitimately their own.

That could only be achieved by meeting and satisfying the basic ( NOT ALL) aspirations of both communities in an outcome that would declare neither party a victor nor the other a looser .

This particularly applies and is crucial to the Palestinians who, for reasons too well known to elaborate on, are in the by far weaker position in all respects but one: that despite it all some 5-6 million of them are still tenaciously holding on and actually living in their own homeland.

The, most likely, attempt to tailor a “peace “ agreement to fit their weak position would be short sighted and ultimately counter productive.
The Palestinian cause having been transformed from a unilateral Palestinian people’s cause into a multilateral cultural/confessional Arab/Moslem cause.
The multilateral cultural/confessional/Islamic cause could only be abated and defused if the majority of Palestinians feel that their basic, and legitimate, aspirations have been substantially realized.

That would require a real Palestinian state with:
Enough LAND
to be viable for its residents AND for all Palestinian refugees desirous to Return to their homeland, or as for some among them, the homeland of their fathers and grand fathers.

The Palestinian state should also be sovereign over
For Jerusalem to be the seat of the real, not the symbolic, capital of their state and the abode of as many Palestinians as desire to reside and work therein.
Also the state should enjoy and command
that would deter any Israeli right wing movement from attempting a re-conquest!

The worst that can happen is a
“peace” agreement that a majority of Palestinians, both residents in their homeland and émigré, consider as submission and capitulation achieved under duress.
Things being what they are, and despite Professor Hurvitz’ “positive” developments, that I can only characterize as truly minor for an issue of historical, and in many ways, universal significance, the odds are that whatever comes out from these negotiations will NOT rise to the heights or depths of the issue needed to enduringly resolve it.

Arnold Shcherban - 9/6/2010

To begin with, Mahmoud Abbas is not the President of the Palestinian National Authority. His legal occupation of this post ended in January of 2009, at which point he unilaterally extended his term up to undetermined future date.
Hamas, Palestinian leading political party that won majority in the Palestinian Parliament by democratic elections does not recognize Abbas'
usurped extension.
Therefore, neither M. Abbas, nor his colleagues in Fatah party have legal right to represent Palestinians as representatives of Palestinian majority.
Thus it is inevitable (provided some kind of the peaceful resolution of the conflict is reached) mostly Israel and the US, which first ostracized victorious Hamas, then provoked the split and deadly struggle between two largest Palestinian political groups, are going to get the most out of the latest negotiations.