The National (Editorial)
September 1, 2010 - 12:00am

The stage has been set: only time will tell whether what transpires in Washington this week was meant for show or to produce something of substance. The talks between Mahmoud Abbas and Benjamin Netanyahu that begin today are the first direct negotiations in two years. There remain, however, legitimate concerns over the timing of the talks.

One concern discussed since the talks were announced – that spoilers on either side would resort to violence – was realised before negotiations even began. Four Israelis, including a pregnant woman, were murdered near the West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba on Tuesday, a crime for which Hamas claimed responsibility. That Hamas is actively trying to sabotage diplomatic efforts is despicable. But Mr Abbas, for his part, has denounced these attacks and the enemies of peace responsible for them. The same cannot be said for Mr Netanyahu and the radicals in his camp.

Mr Netanyahu’s ruling coalition includes the Shas party, whose spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, said last weekend that Mr Abbas “should perish from this world”. “You must send missiles to them and annihilate them,” Mr Yosef said of the Palestinians. Yes, the Palestinians may be bitterly fractured. In part, that is because Mr Abbas has taken the risks to separate himself from those who spew the same kind of vile rhetoric toward the Israelis that Mr Yosef recently employed against the Palestinians.

Whether Mr Netanyahu has the mettle to sacrifice the support of radicals like those in the Shas party remains to be seen. The talks, and whether he will extend a moratorium on settlements that expires later this month, provide him the opportunity to do so.

It is difficult to believe that Mr Netanyahu arrives at the table in good faith; a video released earlier this year showed him boasting about sabotaging the Oslo Accords. Mr Netanyahu also enters the talks asserting “priorities” that rule out a future Palestinian state’s control over its own borders or refugees’ right of return. The former condition makes a future state inviable, the latter is just a basic point of justice. And yet, Mr Abbas has taken the risk of sitting down with Mr Netanyahu. “If there is only a one per cent chance of achieving peace we will strive for it,” Mr Abbas said on the eve of the talks.

Peace requires that two parties share this commitment. Mr Netanyahu’s past performance is not encouraging. Now that the Americans have brought the parties together, they must use their considerable leverage to put pressure on Mr Netanyahu to take a risk for peace and show him why it is in his country’s own interest.

The extremists on both sides have nothing to offer. A stable, viable Palestinian state is the only solution. The sooner that Israel realises this and begins to redress decades of injustice, the more secure it will be. Only then will extremists lose the power to shape the destiny of the Middle East that they have held for too long.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017