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The frustrating realities of the Middle East peace process

What’s the first item on the agenda for the long-awaited, face-to-face peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians that begin Thursday at the State Department? It’s just getting the parties to agree to a second meeting in several weeks.

And even achieving that modest goal is not a given: First, the two sides have to find their way past what one negotiator calls the “barrier reef” of Sept. 26. That’s the expiration date of Israel’s moratorium on building new settlements. If that issue can’t be resolved quickly, then this latest peace process is likely to collapse soon after it starts.

The Obama administration, which came to office with such brash optimism about achieving a breakthrough on the Palestinian problem, is reckoning this week with the frustrating realities that have obstructed a settlement for more than 40 years: Every little issue is linked to a bigger issue; agreement on the parts of a deal is impossible unless you can see the shape of the whole package.

The settlements freeze is a case in point: The administration demanded the moratorium early last year as a way to boost Arab confidence. But it has become a proxy for the larger question of what borders a future Palestinian state will have.

Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu will probably agree to extend the moratorium past the Sept. 26 deadline only under a formula that allows Israel to keep building in the big settlement blocks that bound Jerusalem. Everyone (including the Palestinian negotiators) understands that these blocks, although outside the 1967 borders of Israel, will become part of the Jewish state in any final deal.

The demarcation of borders, in theory, is the easiest of the “final status” issues to resolve, so the Obama administration planned to start there.

But hold on: The borders issue, in turn, is a proxy for the still larger question of how Israel will maintain security with a Palestinian state next door. Israel might agree to return 95 percent of the pre-1967 territory if it knew it could have a military presence in the Jordan River Valley, or airspace over the West Bank, or a demilitarized Palestine, or…. Pretty soon, this starting point begins to look like a dead end.

The Obama administration’s response has been an admirable persistence. “We’re trying to launch a process that has staying power,” says a senior administration official. “You can’t get there until you get there.”

“Getting there” begins Wednesday with a kickoff dinner at the White House with leaders of Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt and Jordan. The next day, the Israelis and Palestinians sit down with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton—and, hopefully, agree to meet again in about two weeks somewhere in the Middle East. Then, in theory, negotiators begin working on specific sub-issues, such as water, transportation, airspace and even Internet bandwidth.

When the parties reach an impasse, the Obama administration plans to step in with “bridging proposals.” As momentum accelerates and the key sticking points become clear, Obama plans to gather negotiators at a rural location near Washington for a final push.

But first they have to get past the impasse of Sept. 26, which has become at once the alpha and the omega.

What possible reason would Netanyahu have for making concessions that would boost the political standing of Obama, a man many Israelis still regard with deep suspicion?

“Israel’s interest is in having a strong America,” says Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to Washington. And you can’t have a strong America with a weak president. This may be Obama’s secret weapon, the fact that he needs a win so badly right now. Another American failure would be scary -- especially for Israel.

By David Ignatius  | August 31, 2010; 10:04 AM ET
Categories:  Ignatius  | Tags:  David Ignatius  
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The details are of no importance compared to our need for peace. Now.

Posted by: GaryEMasters | August 31, 2010 1:08 PM | Report abuse

Hi David,

I am reading a A Jerusalem Memoir by Emma Williams, about her time living in Jerusalem(moving there in 2000) and her experience during the intifida.

In my opinion the book is more sympathetic to the Palesinians than the Israelis but it is a memoir and her perspective.

What stands out for me is the checkpoints that the Palestinians have to live with. She describes them most accurately, the waiting, the fustration, the helplessness, and the powerlessness that goes with having to be allowed movement from point A to point B. While reading this all I could think of was what I read about in books about the Warsaw Ghetto and what the Jews had to go through in Nazi Germany during WWII and I thought, gee, it seems like Israel is trapped in the Warsaw Ghetto except this time they are the ones with the power over another. Now, I am not saying that the Israelis are anything close to being like the Nazis all I am saying is that the situation seems to be an unending nightmare. Sure, now they have the power over their own destiny, but only to a point because they are, in reality, stuck in the situation, a life or death situation, which is, in reality, absolutely real. They have foes who want their destrution, who believe that the Israelis stole the land they live on and want it back and these foes believe they will one day get back all they have lost. So, it is not like the Israelis are paranoid.

While reading this, I felt for both, the people having to be controlled by checkpoints and the Israelis who expect to be exterminated if their foes where given the chance. How does this end for both?

I cannot see an end. Personally, if I where a Jew I would not want to live in Israel, but this is not the answer or even an acceptable answer. The Jews and Israel will never be separated again, that I can see and that seems very right even though their foes will never see or accept that.

Sadly, I do not see peace, . I see years and years of checkpoints and the frustration and anger and hate that they produce.

The only chance for peace are the moderates on both sides but the extremists hold the power, the money and the weapons while the moderates are busy standing in lines to cross a checkpoint.

Posted by: rannrann | August 31, 2010 1:18 PM | Report abuse

There is no peace process.

There will never be peace in Palestine until the Jews and Arabs resolve the extermination issue. The Arabs want to exterminate the Jews. The Jews don't want to be exterminated. Neither side is willing to budge on this issue.

Therefore, there will never be peace.

Therefore, the words "peace process" are a lie.

Posted by: ZZim | August 31, 2010 1:19 PM | Report abuse

This is true but only half the truth.

"There will never be peace in Palestine until the Jews and Arabs resolve the extermination issue. The Arabs want to exterminate the Jews. The Jews don't want to be exterminated. Neither side is willing to budge on this issue."

The other half is that the Jews want to live in an empty land, which already had a lot of people in it. They want them to be gone, and are using every possible method to rid themselves of the inconvenient inhabitants of the land they want. Except they have so far been unwilling to exterminate them. Unfortunately, some of their leaders are now inciting for even that. So it is downhill, not building up.

Posted by: MarkThomason | August 31, 2010 1:50 PM | Report abuse


By MARK LAVIE, Associated Press Writer – 7 mins ago
JERUSALEM – A Palestinian gunman opened fire Tuesday on an Israeli vehicle in the West Bank and killed four passengers on the eve of a new round of Mideast peace talks in Washington. The Islamic militant group Hamas praised the shooting.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility. But in the past, militant groups have staged attacks in an effort to sabotage peace efforts.
8/31/2010 2:33:22 PM
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motherof3 wrote:
'"Israel will bear the responsibility for the collapse of the negotiations if they continue building settlements," Abbas said in a speech Sunday night.'

Good. I wish Netanyahu *would* be responsible for ending negotiations. He should tell Obama that he is not coming to Washington, and he should tell Abbas that everything is off the table. No more discussions. Period. This charade is over.
8/31/2010 2:19:47 PM
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Posted by: birs1987 | August 31, 2010 2:37 PM | Report abuse

Except they have so far been unwilling to exterminate them. Unfortunately, some of their leaders are now inciting for even that. So it is downhill, not building up.

Posted by: MarkThomason

- - - - - - - - - -

Excellent point. Until the extermination issue if resolved, the survivor will not have peace.

Since extermination is not a policy we as Americans can support by an ally OR allow to happen to an ally, we should NOT be working toward peace.

“Working toward peace” simply means “ignoring the real issue.” We should work toward a state of war in which the casualties are kept to a minimum. As a goal, I propose using the DC murder rate, which is about 5 per 100,000 per year.

Posted by: ZZim | August 31, 2010 3:24 PM | Report abuse

Supporting Israel WEAKENS AMERICA!

That exactly is also Israel's dilemma. Since by its own actions of ILLEGAL OCCUPATION, Israel weakens America. Can Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to Washington understand that?

Todays killing of 4 Israeli settlers is an act of terror. But so are the Israeli measures that preceded it:
* The arrest of senior Hamas leaders in the Occupied West Bank
* The murderous statements by the "spiritual leader" of a the SHAS-party, which is a senior member of Netanyahu's coalition, called to G_d to "kill all Palestinians".
* The continuing building of ILLEGAL settlements, and in Hebron the destruction of the Kassbah [old city] and replacing it with homes for the 400 odd Jewish zealots.
* The opening of a new road connecting the ILLEGAL Settlement of Qiriat Arba with Hebron, where an American Jewish Zealot, Baruch Goldstein slaughtered 29 Muslims, and wounded 129 inside their mosque.

But, as usual, those facts are not of any interest to WAPO writers...

Posted by: telavivPEACEagent | August 31, 2010 3:44 PM | Report abuse

WAPO SELLS YOU LIES, instead of telling simple truth to its readers: As Long As Israel Occupies Arab Land, which it occupied in 1967, there cannot be peace.

Now Obama knows that, and he gave in to AIPAC pressure in order to get to Zionist votes. Now he may gain these votes, but he will loose the confidence of hundreds of millions of people in the world. Yet, unfortunately Obama named Zionist advisors, like Larry Summers and Ben Bernanke who WRECK the ECONOMY so that WALL Street makes more gains... and Rahm Emanuel, son of an IRGUN Aparachnik... that is how OBAMA he became OBAMYAHU.

"U.S. publishers, editors, and reporters carry the biggest responsibility for the rotten state of US policy in the Middle East. The pro-Israel lobbies are powerful and Obama weak mainly because Americans rarely get an alternative view. On the rare occasions when Obama criticizes the Israeli government, newspaper editorials and talk show hosts sometimes support him" - wrote a Jonathan Steele, a senior commentator on The Guardian.

And who is David Ignatius? - a mix of a WAPO owner, editor and writer...

Posted by: telavivPEACEagent | August 31, 2010 4:01 PM | Report abuse

WAPO SELLS YOU LIES, instead of telling simple truth to its readers: As Long As Israel Occupies Arab Land, which it occupied in 1967, there cannot be peace.

= = = = = = = = =

That's true, and as long as Israel occupies formerly-Arab lands, the Arabs can't exterminate them.

I just can't see them changing their position on this issue.

So we need to strive toward a low-level state of warfare that does the least amount of damage to everyone else.

Posted by: ZZim | August 31, 2010 4:21 PM | Report abuse

Should one accept this article and its comments as fact, then we can expect a nuclear war in the Middle East anytime very soon. Israel's nuclear arsenal will be deployed to protect its cities from an Iranian counter-attack and the world's first nuclear war will have commenced. Oil at $300+ and the Dow at 6000 will just be the start.

If this is not to happen then the US must use its undoubted power to bring the recalcitrant parties to heel. That means a complete ban on the export of arms and the declaration by the UNSC of a NUCLEAR FREE ZONE covering the entire MidEast including Iran and Israel. There is NO other way.

Posted by: coldale | August 31, 2010 4:31 PM | Report abuse

Coldale's warning must be taken seriously!

Today Oded Tirah, the boss of Israel's Industry and a former Brig. Gen. in the Israeli Army called on Netanyahu to ATTACK IRAN IN OCTOBER.

See Haaretz in Hebnrew [They probably won't publish this in the English edition...].
Hebrew link:

If Tirah's "logic" is accepted, you may be right! Israel is crazy enough to engage in more criminal wars, instead of reaching peace, and joining the Non-Proliferation Treaty NPT. But it will only do that, if the U.S., i.e. President Obama gives it "the green light".

Posted by: telavivPEACEagent | August 31, 2010 5:00 PM | Report abuse

Due to its important, as a MAJOR THREAT TO WORLD PEACE, I translated to you a portion of today's article by {reserve] Brigadier General Oded Tirah from the Hebrew edition of Haaretz.

Tirah demands Israel to attack Iran in October!
He writes: "The conclusion [that Israel should reach] is that it MUST attack Iran. The perfect timing is in October [2010], before the Congressional elections in the U.S. Prior to the[se] elections the U.S. is not likely to punish [Israel] severely. Its punishment will be limited, or [there'll be] none at all. After November we'd likely get, so I hope, a Republican Congress which may back our attack and allow us to continue [attacking]".



Posted by: telavivPEACEagent | August 31, 2010 5:17 PM | Report abuse

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