Israeli and Palestinian officials have met for the first time in months, exchanged documents, and plan to meet again.
The meeting came after prolonged pressure from the "Quartet" of US, European Union, UN, and Russia. The location in Amman shows Jordanian interest.
We have nothing more than unsubstantiated reports of what happened at the first meeting, and speculation by way of explanation and expectations. The details make sense even though some have been denied by the parties.
The Palestinians demanded the 1967 borders as the basis of negotiations, with changes limited to a small percentage of the territory. Israel is said to have put some Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem on the table, demanded a continued military presence along the Jordan River and at selected points of security significance in the West Bank, indicated that it would accept no Palestinian refugees, would not withdraw all settlements from the West Bank, insists on limitations of Palestine''s capascity to form agreements with countries Israel considers its enemies, and that any agreement be final, with no possibility of additional Palestinian demands. http://www.jpost.com/DiplomacyAndPolitics/Article.aspx?ID=252424&R=R1
A non-starter from each perspective, or the opening of what are likely to be ongoing negotiations over a lengthy period of time?
Commentary focuses on the inability of Palestinians to bring along Hamas or those further extreme in their anti-Israeli postures, and the disinclination of Israelis to trust Palestinians, or to make concessions requiring conflict with Israel''s right wing without a high probability of agreement.
Why go down this road, more likely to increase frustration than produce agreement?
Winston Churchill''s explanation: "To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war."
Along with this is the need to explain the continued pressure of outsiders.
Front and center are the illusions or delusions of Barack Obama and his chorus of American and European hopefuls. They seem to believe that the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is no more than a disagreement over details, where "everyone knows the eventual outcome," and a nudge from distinguished outsiders will bring the locals to their senses.
There is also the need of western powers to appease Arab supporters of the Palestinians. The Middle Eastern reality is that Palestinians are low priority for other Arabs, and little more than a fig leaf over their own domestic problems. That detail, if recognized in the White House and European capitals, may be less important than playing along with the Arab charade of concern for Palestine. Autocratic regimes have invested so much in their claims of concern for Palestine that they risk even more unrest if they appear to be less than serious.
As a result of all this, Israeli and Palestinians go along with a charade, each presenting demands defensible within their own communities in full recognition that they doom any agreement.
There is a lot that we do not know. How serious is the pressure on the Israelis and Palestinians to demonstrate flexibility? And what''s going on with respect to Iran. If those explosions, assassinations, and computer viruses reflect the combined efforts of Americans, Israelis, and perhaps others, then a bit of play acting on the part of Israel with respect to Palestine is a small price to pay.
The multiplicity of actors and influences on them, plus recent events unsettling the status quo make any projections risky in the extreme. Hamas, Hizbollah, Syria, and Iran have their own interests. Arab spring/fall/winter and its repercussions make each of them insecure, and add to the risks of any predictions.
Anyone with a normative agenda, or a concern for the justice of Israeli or Palestinian claims can go back to bed. This is a time for considering what is possible and what is likely.
Credible information is that Israel has plans to destroy weapons stocks in Lebanon and Gaza, but has no wish to pre-empt and cause itself casualties in advance of a serious threat. There is daily speculation about Israel''s intentions about Iran, and no clear indication if this is serious or disinformation. Recent blusters between Iran and the United States about the Straits of Hormuz, and news of continued downsizing of American forces and its military commitments add to uncertainties. The American political campaign offers its own incentives for heroic activity.
The improbability of movement on a Palestinian state and the prospect of frustration in the West Bank makes one wonder if the naivete of Americans and others will be the spark that sets things alight.
While things may explode tomorrow, or even later today, until that happens it is best to stay with routines and remain calm.