The landmines along the way to Israeli-Palestinian peace talks


A date has now been set for the first meeting between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in Washington, which is to be the start of the first round of talks between the two sides in three years. However, there are several pitfalls that could derail the talks at an early stage.

Firstly, no agreement has yet been achieved on the thorniest issues. The Palestinians are demanding that the issue of borders should be first on the agenda and that Israel commit to a solution based on the pre-1967 lines. Israel has refused this and is demanding that talks begin with the security arrangements. Former envoy to Israel Martin Indyk, who is to serve as the senior US representative at the talks, will have his hands full just trying to get the sides to agree to what to talk about.

There has been unofficial freeze on settlement building for months but Israel has refused to make it official. Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett has promised that building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem will continue, as has Housing Minister Uri Ariel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will try to prevent any significant building while the talks are ongoing. If he succeeds, there could be a coalition crisis. If he fails, the Palestinians may use the issue as a reason to leave the talks.

Israel’s governing coalition could also turn out to be a major obstacle. So far, none of its members have planned to leave over the talks but this could change if the settlement freeze continues or discussions on the pre-1967 borders intensify. Jewish Home and Avigdor Lieberman — along with Yisrael Beiteinu — may decide to go. Mr Netanyahu may have to invite Labour and the Charedi parties into the coalition.

Israel has agreed to release 82 prisoners. Their return will be a boost to President Mahmoud Abbas. But the fact that Israel refused to release 21 prisoners on the Palestinians’ list will also give Mr Abbas’s critics ammunition.

Meanwhile, many in Fatah are skeptical. Mr Abbas can continue despite lack of support from the party because he has the blessing of the Arab League but, once the talks drag out, it will become harder to answer critics.

Finally, Hamas is in a bind following the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. It has to decide whether to continue trying to consolidate its hold on Gaza or to escalate the situation with rocket attacks on Israel. This would seriously rock the negotiations boat.

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