Are the Israelis and Palestinians Really Ready to Negotiate?
This past week, Secretary of State John Kerry announced that a basis has been established between the Israeli and the Palestinian West Bank leadership to begin peace talks. The negotiations began Monday evening in Washington, D.C., and mark the first serious attempt at a peace deal since 2010. The talks started on an optimistic note, as negotiators stated that it will take nine months for the parties to reach a finalized deal.
However, because of domestic problems and political divisions, Palestinian leaders are unlikely to make any serious, lasting changes, even if Israel were willing. The fact that the Palestinian government continues to be split into two one-party systems — Fatah in the West Bank, and Hamas in Gaza — means that circumstances on the ground will certainly undermine any deal reached. A significant portion of Palestinians' visible lack of confidence in Mahmoud Abbas' administration puts Palestinian leadership in a difficult spot with negotiations. Ultimately, because of these internal difficulties, cutting a deal that would produce a real path to peace isn't likely to happen.
Currently, one of the biggest issues is how this deal would be accepted by both parties. Both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas have both stated that any peace deal that would be formulated would be put up to a referendum within their states. This may sound like a good idea, but one big problem Abbas will have to deal with is the fact that the one million Palestinians outside the West Bank — the portion of the Palestinian population that is in the most dire need — would inevitably be left out of this referendum. Since the Hamas/Fatah split in 2005, Gazans have endured substantially more difficulties with persistent Israeli military presence, crippling economic sanctions that leave many in abject poverty, and most recently, current political turmoil in Egypt. Though there have been recent talks between Hamas and Fatah to reconcile, there has yet to be substantial progress. Even if negotiations were to be successful, it would not be a peace deal for all Palestinians.
The most recent development that may undermine Abbas' administration is the beginning of another Tamarod movement within the territories. Of course it's doubtful that the movement would have nearly the same impact as it had with Egypt. However the fact that this movement is gaining exposure shows a strong presence of discontent with Mahmoud Abbas and the Fatah government. The Facebook page for the Palestinian movement has gained over 18,000 followers, and appears to be gradually gaining ground. Even in Gaza, Palestinians are showing an increasing resentment towards Hamas with the establishment of a separate movement known as Tamarod Gaza. In recent years, many Palestinians have had much to deal with in addition to the continuing occupation of their territories.
In addition, the recent Prawer plan threatens to further hinder a peace deal . The Prawer plan is a piece of legislation that was introduced and passed on its first of three readings on June 24, that the Knesset claims will urbanize and "modernize" Bedouin society in the Negev Desert. The passing of this plan makes it very likely that out of a population of 200,000 Bedouins, over 40,000 living in the Negev would be displaced. This no doubt would add further insult to injury for many Palestinians who are prone to seeing Abbas' government as invalid
Overwhelming domestic problems, not to mention Israel's apparent intention of keeping West Bank settlements as they are, all point to fruitless negotiations. Without question, the Palestinians are more than ready to see their situation change. However, we can't view the Israeli and Palestinian leadership on equal playing fields. The way these negotiations are being spoken about so far is on the assumption that both the Israeli and Palestinian governments are fully united, and stable enough to bring forth a deal. For the Palestinians, that's far from the case. Until the Palestinian leadership unites and resolves its domestic issues, negotiations likely won't result in any substantial change.