Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process

With the recent visits of President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry to Israel, there has been a renewal in negotiations surrounding the Arab-Israeli peace process. The Obama administration hopes to reinvigorate talks on a two-state solution and is urging both Israeli and Palestinian leaders to participate. Despite the American efforts to create a peace settlement and the genuine wish of Palestinians as well as Israelis to achieve this, recent surveys seem to point out that neither population is confident Obama will be the man to do so. Coupled with the on-going political conflicts in the region that urgently need to be addressed, it is unlikely that we will see a peace arrangement to be struck in the near future.

Image courtesy of US Department of State, public domain.
Image courtesy of US Department of State, public domain.

Though President Obama did not provide a specific vision on how to achieve peace in the region, he did highlight his goal of reaching a two-state solution: the peaceful coexistence of a Palestinian state alongside the Jewish State of Israel. Obama realised that, in order to have a chance at negotiating a peace settlement, he would first have to repair his formerly negative image in Israel by correcting the comments he has made in past – most notably during his speech in Cairo in 2009. Upon his arrival, the President immediately set the tone for his visit by acknowledging the Jewish people’s historic connection to their land. In addition, he corrected his previous statement that Israel existed because of the Holocaust, inadvertently playing into the Palestinian-Arab narrative that the Palestinians were paying the price for the sins of the Europeans during the Second World War. ‘’Here, on your ancient land, let it be said for all the world to hear, the State of Israel does not exist because of the Holocaust. But with the survival of a strong Jewish State of Israel, such a Holocaust will never happen again.’’[1]

Similarly, Secretary of State John Kerry has also been working to revive the dormant Arab-Israeli peace process during his visit to the region at the beginning of April. Mr Kerry has underscored his aggressive approach towards the pursuit of reaching peace in the Middle East by attempting to revive negotiations by using the Arab Peace Initiative (first proposed by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia in 2002) as a starting point. The Peace Initiative, which forces Israel to completely withdraw from the West Bank and East Jerusalem, has been agreed to by the Arab League but rejected by the Israeli leadership on the grounds that it would leave their country with indefensible borders.[2] Kerry attempted to modify the Initiative by softening the demand for Israel to withdraw to pre-1967 borders and implementing increased security guarantees. However, Palestinians rejected Kerry’s amendment to the 11-year old plan to alleviate Israeli objections.

Despite the fact that Gallup surveys show that a majority of Palestinians and Israelis are overwhelmingly in favour of a two-state solution, recent statistics published by The Guardian indicate that both populations are sceptical that President Obama will be able to bring about a peace settlement. After the re-election of Obama, approximately 50% of Israelis believed that his victory would negatively impact on peace negotiations, as opposed to 10% who thought it would have a positive impact. Currently, only 11% of the Israeli people think that Obama will be successful in reaching a peace arrangement during his second term.[3] Compare these unfavourable statistics with the 55% of Israelis in 2006 that had trust in former U.S. President George W. Bush to reach a settlement on this issue.[4]

Considering these figures, we can see that President Obama’s objective of a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine is no closer today than it was a decade ago. Although both the Palestinians and the Israelis would want a peace settlement, there does not seem to be much faith in the President’s ability to restart serious negotiations.

Add the current regional chaos to the overall lack of trust in President Obama reinvigorating negotiations and one realises that reaching a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinian authority may not be a possibility in the near future. The on-going political conflicts in Syria and Egypt in addition to the development of Iran’s nuclear programme have heightened Israel’s emphasis on its national security. Unless the United States addresses Israel’s security concerns on these matters, it is unlikely that the Obama administration’s efforts to revive negotiations will receive strong Israeli support.

[1] H. Keinon, ‘’Searching the speeches for an Obama doctrine’’, The Jerusalem Post (30 March, 2013).

[2] R. Tait, ‘’US efforts to revive Arab-Israeli peace process sent awry’’, The Telegraph (8 April, 2013).

[3] H. Enten, ‘’Obama talks peace, but Palestinians and Israelis more sceptical than ever’’, The Guardian (20 March, 2013).

[4] L. Saad and E. Mendes, ‘’Israelis, Palestinians Pro Peace Process but Not Hopeful’’, Gallup (21 March, 2013).

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