When President Obama hosts the Israeli and Palestinian leaders in Washington this week for the start of direct talks, he should remember above all that the two sides have been at this for a very long time. Their peace process began when Obama was still in law school. At least a dozen summits have preceded this one with little or no tangible results. As such, Israelis and Palestinians are deeply skeptical about the prospects for an agreement—and worried that another failure will trigger fresh waves of violence. To acknowledge the long odds and to avoid sounding out of step, here are four lofty phrases uttered throughout the era of peacemaking that all sides should do their best to avoid.The catchphrases are completely and utterly besides the point. Uttering "confidence building measures" does not damn the talks to failure.
Assuming that Mahmoud Abbas has authority to conduct talks in the name of Palestinians, let alone the ability to implement any deal beyond the West Bank, is what will damn these talks to failure.
The two sides have been at war since Israel's founding (that being Arabs versus the Israelis). The PLO (which includes Fatah as its largest faction) seeks Israel's destruction in its founding charter, and subsequent revisions have always referred back to the founding charter as its guiding principle.
Negotiations require having two sides that are willing to make concessions. Israel has always signaled its willingness to make concessions - on land, including around Jerusalem. The Palestinians have always sought more concessions, without making any of their own. Abbas and Fatah have refused to give up the right of return, and claim East Jerusalem (that includes the Old City of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount) as theirs. That's a nonstarter for any talks with Israel.
Abbas isn't willing or able to make those concessions because there's no way that the Palestinians would ever accept those terms because they've spent generations calling for nothing less than Israel's destruction, the right of return and Jerusalem as their capital.
Even more than Abbas' issues within his own organization is the fact that Fatah and the PA don't control Gaza. Hamas does - and they're not only not a party to these talks, but refuses to recognize Israel's right to exist. Fatah and Hamas have already gone toe to toe in a Palestinian civil war, with Fatah losing its presence in Gaza in the process (Hamas remains a threat in the West Bank though).
The New York Times follows with its own inane analysis, claiming that peace rests on the shoulders of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Right. Just ignore that there's a guy across from him that has no power to actually fulfill any obligations that he might conceivably agree to - Mahmoud Abbas.
No, the pressure isn't on Netanyahu. It's on Abbas. Abbas is the key to any deal here.
Moreover, the analysis is based on the theory that "...the left wants to make peace but cannot, while the right doesn’t want to but, if forced to, can do it". Peace will come when Israel has a partner for peace. That happened when Sadat made his historic trip to Jerusalem and opened the door to a peace deal between Egypt and Israel. Similarly, King Hussein of Jordan entered a peace deal with Israel.
Despite the Oslo Accords (and Labor's efforts through Shimon Peres), the lack of a peace partner in the Palestinians is the main stumbling block.
Land concessions are now seen in a different light, particularly after the Gaza disengagement, which instead of creating conditions for peace, turned into a haven for Hamas, who proceeded to fire thousands of kassams at Israel and fostered a siege mentality among Israelis living within range of the rockets. That move was carried out by then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his Kadima party, which was comprised of former Labor and Likud members.
Now, Israelis have to see concrete actions towards peace and are not going to accept land concessions without something tangible in return.