Monday, September 14, 2009

Peace Buzz

There's quite a bit of activity taking place, a scramble of sorts, to jump start Palestinian Israeli peace talks by the end of September. Between this weekend and this coming Wednesday alone, Netanyahu has met with Mubarak and will meet with Mitchell who has met with Peres and will meet with Abbas who is to be pressured by all of the above to agree to peace talks.

Prior to the Netanyahu-Mubarak meeting (which took place between the late afternoon and a fast-breaking Ramadan dinner before Netanyahu headed home) speculation was that talks would focus on a settlement freeze, the normalization of relations between Israel and Arab states and the Iranian threat. There were also expected, according to media sources, to be discussions relating to weapons smuggling into Gaza and a general re-starting of peace talks.

Netanyahu did not bring any media with him, however, and so the actual content of discussions is unclear. Many speculate that the real agenda topping item was a deal to free Gilad Schalit. This is because many note that Hamas leaders were in Egypt just prior to Netanyahu's visit. Some even suggested that peace talks were probably not raised at all during the meeting. This is a proposition that may be supported by noting the duration of the meeting, it's lack of fanfare and the very general statements issued afterwards relating to cooperation between all parties and Netanyahu's comments prior to the meeting that the visit may help bridge diplomatic gaps. Moreover, Netanyahu was also supposed to meet with Omar Suleiman in Egypt, who has been Egypt's point man on negotiations for Schalit's release.

This may even be a hint that Netanyahu is willing to go farther for Schalit than a prisoner exchange. Perhaps what he's saying here is that bold steps are needed and perhaps Israel will agree to speak more directly with Hamas in exchange for Schalit's return. This would be truly shocking, however, as it flies in the face of Israeli and Netanyahu doctrine for refusing to accord Hamas any legitimacy.

Meanwhile, Peres' meeting with Mitchell seems to have accomplished little with Mitchell wishing Peres well after being released from hospital following a fainting spell, Peres being pressured by Mitchell to stop settlements and Mitchell being assured by Peres that despite media hype and small disagreements, Israel is 100% on-board with Obama's goals for peace. All of which sounds like a fairly ho-hum meeting with little new or significant take-away. Talks between Netanyahu and Mitchell may be more substantive with the parameters of a renewed series of peace talks being discussed.

Strangely, as almost all parties seem to be scrambling to ensure that Israel and the Palestinians meet for talks, the PA and the EU seem to be implying not only that talks will take place, but that they'll take place with the goal of setting up a Palestinian state within two years, as per the PA PM Fayyad's plan. The hope is that the setting up of agreed borders in the West Bank (with the exception of Jerusalem) will be the basis upon which a new state may be founded.

Much remains to be seen, especially how Abbas responds to Mitchell, but it's hard to imagine how the talk of peace could be a bad thing.

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