The late Palestinian president Yasser Arafat famously said “Palestine is the cement that holds the Arab world together, or it is the explosive that blows it apart”. This quote illustrates the importance of the Palestinian question to all members of the Arab League, as the lack of peace with Israel has severely affected the region for over six decades. It is for this reason that the future of the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks is a central question to the League that requires developing a comprehensive approach to work towards a long lasting peace deal.
Despite great optimism at the start of the talks that took place in Washington, discussions issues such as water, security, settlements and refugee’s proved to be roadblock’s to peace as both delegations were unwilling to compromise any further.
Negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian restarted in July of 2013 after a two year halt, mostly due to the efforts of United States Secretary of State John Kerry to restart the peace process. Before the start of the peace talks, Israel agreed to the release of 104 Palestinian prisoners many of whom have been under arrest in Israeli jails since before 1983, while the Palestinian Liberation Organization agreed to halt efforts on international recognition to the state of Palestine. Despite great optimism at the start of the talks that took place in Washington, discussions issues such as water, security, settlements and refugee’s proved to be roadblock’s to peace as both delegations were unwilling to compromise any further. These issues have been at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and have heated up peace talks on numerous other occasions.
By November it was clear that the Israeli side were determined to continue with their settlement building plan, which is seen illegal by many states worldwide, driving the Palestinian peace negotiating team to quit the talks.
Some of the most important peace talks directly involving Palestine:
UN Security Council resolution 242 called for ‘the need to work for a just and lasting peace in the Middle East’ accordingly many peace talks have been held since 1967 in hopes of establishing this.
Oslo Accords 1993: The outcome of the talks led to Palestinian self-governance of major cities in West bank and Gaza. Land was divided into three areas A, B and C.
Camp David Summit 2000: Detailed talks took place between Israel, Palestine, and the United States. Failure largely attributed to Arafat’s unwillingness to compromise, which lead to the sidelining of Arafat in future negotiations. The second Intifada followed shortly after which he did little to stop.
Despite this set back, peace talks continued but key issues that are highlighted bellow continue to be a problem that needs to be addressed as the April deadline for the talks fast approaches and the risk of failure is looming.
Taba Summit 2001: It ended with a joint statement stating “peace seems closer than ever” but the reality was different. The peace summit was later affected by the results of Camp David Summit.
Road Map to peace 2002: It was proposed specifically on the Middle East to put an end to the increased violence shown by both sides in the years of the Second Intifada. It further lead to the appointment of first ever Palestinian Prime Minster, Mahmud Abbas in 2003. Both sides showed minor commitment to the road map for e.g. Palestinian’s agreed to a cease fire while Israel agreed to pull out of Bethlehem. Meanwhile further action towards adopting the roadmap wasn’t adopted as Israel refused to freeze settlement or withdraw from area’s any further, which shortly lead to the ceasefire and later collapse.
Sharm Sheikh Summit 2005: This summit involved the delegates of Israeli, Egypt, Jordan and Palestinian. United States was not included. Some foreign experts saw this as a period of trust under the new leadership of Mahmud Abbas. It although paved the way for future negotiations between Palestine and Israel.
2010 direct talks: The peach talk’s aim was to ensure a final status on settlement and establishment of two state solutions. Talks of a demilitarized Palestinian state emerged as a possible solution.
Recent talks (2013 – 2014)
Following an attempt by US secretary of State John Kerry, peace between Israel and Palestine resumed after a two year halt. These renewed peace talks aim to reach a final peace settlement by Mid-2014. Upon agreeing to venture into the talks each side extended a compromise as a show of willingness to achieve a solution. The Palestinians agreed to halt any moves towards international recognition while Israel offered the release of 104 Palestinian prisoners. Despite the great optimism held on this effort, shortly after the launch of talks the presence of red lines and the unwillingness to compromise any further proved as difficult as ever. By November, Israel refused to freeze work on settlements, rejected the Palestinian right of return and said that the separation wall will be a permanent boundary between the two states prompting the Palestinian peace delegation to quit the talks in November 2013. Despite this set back, peace talks continued but key issues that are highlighted bellow continue to be a problem that needs to be addressed as the April deadline for the talks fast approaches and the risk of failure is looming.
…despite having peace agreements with Israel, the Arab league and its states in general is committed to the Palestinian cause and to finding a just solution for the conflict.
Arab-Israeli peace agreements
The history of Arab-Israeli peace talks are not as bleak, Egypt and Jordan have signed peace treaties and have full diplomatic relations with Israel. Other countries have not signed a peace treaty but have seen a move towards normalizing relationship with Israel at the turn of the 21st century. It is important to note that despite having peace agreements with Israel, the Arab league and its states in general is committed to the Palestinian cause and to finding a just solution for the conflict.
Camp David accords
The famous Egypt-Israel Peace treaty was signed in 1979 under Anwar Sadat’s presidency following the Camp David accords the previous year. The Camp David accords were an aftermath of the October war of 1973 where Egypt was defeated by Israeli troops. The Accords lead to the demilitarization of Sinai that was occupied by Israeli troops at the time in exchange for peace between the two.
The treaty ended 46 years of war between Jordan and Israel and established mutually recognized geographical boundaries. Security Issues were discussed with an emphasis on water security and sharing of resources as important rivers such as Yarmouk and the Jordan River lies between the two. The treaty also established cooperation in tourism, trade and other areas.
Arab League Attempts in the peace process
Beirut Summit 2002
The summit was a meeting of the Arab League in the Lebanese capital of Beirut in 2002. It represented a total break from previous Arab attitude towards the conflict which was summarized in the three no’s; “No peace deals, no diplomatic relations and no negotiations”. On the other hand, the summit showed an attempt in ending the Arab- Israeli conflict through diplomacy not military action and violence that raged in the time precluding to the summit. The most important outcome of the summit was the Arab Peace Initiative, a proposal by the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, his Royal Highness Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz. The initiative was the first attempt towards peace with Israel in exchange of some compensation from Israel. These included full Israeli withdrawal from all occupied territories including the Golan Heights, a just solution for the Palestinian refugee problem according to General Assembly resolution 194, and commitment to establishing a sovereign Palestinians state with East Jerusalem as its capital. In return, Arab countries showed willingness to put an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict and work towards normalizing relationship with Israel.
The reaction from Israel towards this has been initially negative, with a full out rejection of the conditions attached to it especially the right of return of refugees. The nature of the initiative as non-negotiable before Israel accepts it prompted Israel to flat out reject it. Israel claimed that the initiative was not balanced, and called for too much compromise for their part with little return from the Palestinians.
…any hope for future adaptation of this plan requires revisions of the details of the initiative in order to encourage it being adopted into action more than purely a theoretical framework.
Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat was on house arrest at the time and was not allowed to attend the summit, raising a lot of criticism towards its outcome. Other notable missing figures were the King Abdullah of Jordan and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt. 2007 and further: The plan was renegotiated in the Riyadh summit in 2007 and has been referred to on numerous times as a solution for the problem. In 2007 Israel for the first time received a delegation from the Arab League headed by Jordan and Egypt in order to promote the initiative. Many draw upon the spirit of the plan as the first ever Arab step towards normalizing relationship, but the details of the plan are still not accepted by the Israeli/American side. It is clear that any hope for future adaptation of this plan requires revisions of the details of the initiative in order to encourage it being adopted into action more than purely a theoretical framework. Some suggested revisions such as the demilitarization of the future Palestinian state and giving up some of the Palestinian right to return. These suggestions are not agreed upon by all Arab states or fractions within these states such as Hamas and Hezbollah and may risk losing the unanimous Arab drive behind it.
Issues to look for
As the past experiences show there are some major issues that are seen to be roadblocks to peace and need to be addressed before a peace plan can be agreed upon.
A) Palestinian refugees
According to the UN there are around 4.7 million refugees including descendants of refugees from the 1948 war. The right of return of these refugees is a key Palestinian demand that is enshrined in international law in accordance to General Assembly resolution 194. All fractions of the Palestinian side have expressed their commitment to the Palestinian right of return and to finding adequate compensations towards refugee’s and their descendants. Most Arab states also agree that this is an important part of any peace negotiations. To Israel, this demand is not feasible as the return of such large number of refugee’s would undermine Israel’s claim to be a Jewish only state, and is seen as a demographic threat to their state. Palestinian refugees returning would soon tip the balance and make Israeli’s the minority in the land. This issue has numerous times lead to failures of peace talks for lack of consensus on the solution. Any successful peace talk needs to address this issue and try and find a consensus for both parties.
The wall has had severe consequences on Palestinians, having some villages and towns being cut in half, and huge portions of farms destroyed in order to build it. It also further restricts Palestinians freedom of movement.
B) Water Security
Due to the nature of the Middle East, water is a very scarce resource that has been a driving factor of many conflicts and tensions. Israel controls all water sources of the West Bank and so the Palestinians do not get the same amount of water that Israeli’s do. The West Bank receives far less water allocation for private use and agriculture than Israeli settlements. Moreover, there are further restrictions on them drilling independently for water sources. If a sovereign Palestinian state should be created than a solution for the water problem should be addressed in peace negotiations.
C) Separation Wall
The wall is an eight meter wall that separates Palestinians from Israeli territory and is built for Israeli security purposes. The wall is mostly located on territory inside the West Bank (contrary to Israeli claim of it being on the green line) and when completed will annex 46% of the West Bank. The wall has had severe consequences on Palestinians, having some villages and towns being cut in half, and huge portions of farms destroyed in order to build it. It also further restricts Palestinians freedom of movement.
D) Jewish Settlements
Settlements built by Israel in the West Bank are considered illegal under intentional law and are prohibited by the Geneva Convention due to their annexation of Palestinian land. Many ultra-orthodox Jewish settlers view all of the disputed land to be part of Ertez Israel, or as part of ancient land of Israel that was promised to the Jews, therefore, part of their natural right to be there. The settlers are overwhelmingly located near the green line and are seen as major obstacles to resolving the conflict. Palestinians see it as an attempt to steal more and more land, and especially an attempt to encircle East Jerusalem with settlements to undermine Palestine’s claim for it to be its capital.
During Jordan’s rule over the West Bank, Jews were not allowed to enter East Jerusalem and their place of worship there, Israel is committed to never letting that happen again.
Perhaps the most sensitive topic of them all due to its link to religion, this had lead to many peace talks to collapse including the Camp David talks of 2000. Israel claims Jerusalem to be its capital, while Palestine wants East Jerusalem to be the capital of its future state. This is further complicated by the presence of the holiest site for Jews (Temple Mount) in East Jerusalem. During Jordan’s rule over the West Bank, Jews were not allowed to enter East Jerusalem and their place of worship there, Israel is committed to never letting that happen again. The Temple Mount is also known to Muslims as Alharam Alsharif and the location of Al-Aqsa mosque the third holiest sites for Islam. As the holy sites can’t be divided between the two, a solution for this as suggested in the UN partition plan 181 could be to make Jerusalem an international city open to all.
F) Fatah/Hamas split
The Palestinian Authority officially split up in 2007 following the victory of Hamas in the Palestinian legislative elections in 2006. The split in authority lead to Fatah ruling the West Bank and Hamas ruling Gaza strip. They both tend to disagree on their approach towards peace. Palestinian Liberation Organization tends to be more moderate, and are more internationally recognized as Israel refuses to negotiate with Hamas whom they see as terrorists. In Accordance to the Rabat summit, the PLO is also seen by the Arab league as the only representative of the Palestinian people. This split lead to questions on if the future of the Palestinian state would include Gaza which the PLO has no authority over right now.