TThe Israelis and Palestinians are talking again. President Barack Obama of the USA brought Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas together in Washington to restart peace talks to end the decades long conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Obama is taking a big risk here. American Presidents usually steer clear of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict until their second and last term of office (i.e. when they have nothing to lose). Messing up this conflict can have disastrous consequences (as with George Bush Sr who was brought down after getting into a clash with Israelis, and the failed 2000 Camp David summit brokered by Bill Clinton, which failed then resulted in a second Palestinian intifada which claimed thousands of lives).
So many leaders and Presidents have tried and failed to solve this conflict: Bill Clinton, Shimon Peres, Yasser Arafat, Jimmy Carter, Tony Blair, Ariel Sharon….Yitzhak Rabin and Anwar Sadat paid for their peacemaking efforts with their lives. This latest effort is unlikely to produce a different result. Netanyahu and Abbas are miles apart ideologically. The talks will probably (yet again) fail to produce an end to this conflict and will likely go the same way as other failed peace initiatives like the Oslo Accords, Camp David 2000, Taba, the Road Map, Annapolis .
This is a strange conflict because unlike other seemingly intractable conflicts around the world (Northern Ireland, South Africa) that had no obvious solution, the Israelis and the Palestinians know the basic contours of a final settlement: there will be two states called Israel and Palestine living side by side. The Palestinian state will be in Gaza and the West Bank, will be demilitarized with no offensive military capability and will have only weapons required for internal security. The major settlement blocs (such as Gush Etzion, Ma’ale Adumim and Ariel) in the West Bank will be annexed to Israel and the small and far-flung settlements will be evacuated. Residents of the evacuated settlements will be rehoused in the annexed settlement blocs near Israel’s “Green Line” border with the West Bank. The Palestinian refugees will not be permitted to return to Israel (except for a token gesture of a few thousand) and will instead be resettled in the Palestinian state or be given compensation. West Jerusalem will be the capital of Israel and Arab neighbourhoods of east Jerusalem will be the capital of Palestine.
There are major sticking points, but most sane thinking people on both sides understand that this is what will happen.