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AS THE ISRAELIS AND THE PALESTINIANS TALKS

PHOTO: L-R: ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER, MR BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, US PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA AND PALESTINIAN PRESIDENT MAHMOUD ABBAS IN NEW YORK ON SEPTEMBER 22, 2009. PHOTO: AP.
PHOTO: L-R: ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER, MR BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, US PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA AND PALESTINIAN PRESIDENT MAHMOUD ABBAS IN NEW YORK ON SEPTEMBER 22, 2009. PHOTO: AP.

Things are looking up in the Middle-East; the White House, at least, thinks so. September 2, 2010, will mark the starting point. It is the date President Barack Obama will host two unusual guests. They are unusual because they don’t get to come close to each other except when two American arms are spread out over them like the wings of an eagle. Former President Jimmy Cater cut that image when Egyptian president and the then Israeli PM, came to Camp David in 1977. Other American presidents had followed suit. It was speculated that President Bill Clinton would have been a candidate for the Nobel before he left office if, at the time his arms were spread out over Israeli and Palestinian leaders, he pulled off a peace deal. Now it is Obama’s turn, a man who had not even spread his arms wide for the two traditional foes before he won the Nobel Prize for Peace. His work now is to live up to his billing as a promoter of peace.

Now the stakes are high – for the two parties to the conflict. Yet genial words were in the air on either side days before the talks were due to begin. Both sounded optimistic. Anyone here in Palestine who believes a peace deal could be struck with the Israelis within a year as President Obama desires? The chief Palestinian negotiator voted ‘yes’; insisting it is "doable". The Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, too didn’t vote negative earlier on. A peace agreement will be difficult no doubt, he said, but it is "possible." That’s the right kind of atmosphere for a meeting. But Prime Minister Netanyahu’s plane was still on its way to Washington when violence erupted back home. Four Israelis were killed in Hebron. A Palestinian did the shooting. In a statement, Gaza Hamas’s spokesman said his group was pleased with the "Hebron operation."

While Hamas has always been opposed to any negotiations with Israel, its approval of the attack came as the leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organization that controls West Bank, Mahmoud Abbas, was holding a pre-Summit meeting in Washington. The Israelis sounded tough over the incident. "Israel will not allow terrorists to raise their heads and will exact a price from the murderers and those who send them," Israel’s Defence Minister said, pointing out that the attack was meant to sabotage the talks.

White House was cautious however. It had to be, noting that "there are those who will do whatever they can to disrupt or derail the process." Previous routes to failure of Israeli-Palestinian Peace Talks were being avoided.

But any guarantee this one too will not go the way of the others before it? There are reasons to be optimistic, according to observers. Violence had been less in the entire region in the last couple of months, for instance. It was a thing that had weakened the positions of the leaders of the two sides in previous efforts. Now Palestinian Authority in the West Bank does what it can to stop attacks on Israel. The Abbas-led administration likes the West to know it is worth talking to. Hamas in Gaza does much of the same — if out of concern that Israel might walk into a territory it carved out for itself.

Settlement of occupied territory by the Israelis has always been a source of dispute, but this has been slowed down somewhat in recent times. There are no new buildings under construction in the occupied areas, just as no Palestinian buildings are being pulled down. Then peoples on either side of the conflict want a two-state arrangement. And by now most people in the region want an end to the conflict, not an to Israel as Hamas canvasses. Moreover, since the Oslo Accord was reached over seventeen years ago, much of the critical issues had been discussed and agreed on. This means there is not much left to sit over in this round of talks in Washington.

As a further sign of his readiness to ensure this works out, Mr. Abbass says if his negotiations with Natanyahu deadlocks, President Obama should have stopgap proposals at the ready. This is a sign of a man who wants peace. The fact however is that though President Obama is fulfilling the part that made him worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize he received, he can hardly do it all alone. At the moment, he is doing what he can to sort out Iraq, bringing his troops home in the hope that peace has come to stay in that war-ravaged country. He also has other countries in the Middle East to consider, having promised them "a new beginning" in US-Arab relations. Under this circumstance, the support of the major international actors in removing the remaining hurdles to peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will come handy. The Russians are not new to this long-drawn out Middle-East conflict, and so are the British and the French. It is in the interest of all of them to support the American president in this latest effort targeted at ensuring peace in that region, just as it is in the interest of all groups with sympathies for either of the two sides involved in the conflict.

Ajibade, a Consultant Writer, lives in Abuja.

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