Saturday, July 26, 2003

Middle East Optimism?

Yesterday, Jonathan Edelstein expressed optimism with regard to the Middle East peace process. The reason for this seems to be some Israeli initiatives designed to improve Palestinian life, such as the issuance of more work permits. I agree it is possible that everything could work out, but I remain something of a pessimist. The goal of all current negotiations is to get back to the conditions which prevailed before the al-Aqsa Intifada, with the idea that negotiations on a Palestinian state can then resume where they were between Arafat and Barak.

My main reasons for pessimism lie in the fact that no one seems interested in doing any irrevocable. Sharon, for example, still has not moved meaningfully and forcefully against the settlements...a few were dismantled, more were built, and most of those dismantled were uninhabited. The PA is becoming stronger, but the rejectionist groups reportedly are, too, at least in terms of infrastructure, which means that the PA leadership will have to win political battles before they can decisively confront them. To that end, I would like to see them do more to connect with grassroots elements supporting peace the way Arafat seems to have connections with the radicals, but that just doesn't seem to be part of their current game. In addition, Jonathan speculates that Marwan Barghouti will be among the prisoners released. I'm not sure whether he ultimately helps or hurts the peace process: He has been a strong supporter of Palestinian reform and could rein in the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, but he's also historically been an opponent of the peace process.

I think what I expect to happen is that the Intifada will end, and security will be more or less restored for both Palestinians and Israelis, but I don't think there's a clear path from there to a final deal. We would basically need to get back to what Barak offered Arafat, and have a strong Palestinian leader in place who would accept it. There's a chance this could happen, but I'll be more convinced once dabbling around the edges is replaced with a serious commitment to action from both sides.


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