Stumbling blocks remain in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks

HOST INTRO: Peace talks between Israel and Palestine resumed last July, with strong US backing. The talks are scheduled to end in less than two months but what stands in the way of a comprehensive peace agreement? Marie Shabya reports.

Announcing the resumption of peace talks between Israel and Palestine, last July, Secretary of State John Kerry said he expected tough goings.

KERRY: I know the path is difficult. There is no shortage of passionate skeptics. [4s]

One of them is Rashid Khalidi; a Professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University.

KHALIDI: I mean it maybe possible in principle but I do not think its possible in practice…[4s]

These talks are supposed to broker a two-state agreement, which may mean an independent Palestine running alongside an Israeli state, west of the Jordan River. According to Khalidi, the biggest obstacle to a Palestinian state is the presence of Israeli settlers in the occupied territories.

KHALIDI:  You have 600,000 Israelis living in illegal settlements. That’s 1 in 9 Israeli Jewish voters, I cannot see how…either you’d remove all of those people or you’d keep most of them where there are and have a viable Palestinian State.. [22s]

Ambassador Arthur Hughes, was the Deputy Head of Mission in Tel Aviv for the US Foreign Service and is now a scholar at the Middle East Institute in Washington, DC.

HUGHES: I support a two state solution because I think that’s the best available outcome for this conflict and this tragedy… [6s]

A two state solution would end the presence of Israeli military in the Palestinian  territories. A few weeks ago, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas proposed  that NATO should oversee an Israeli withdrawal from the area and at the same time maintain security in the West Bank 3 years after a peace agreement is reached.

HUGHES: I think its clear to most analysts who don’t have an ideological or religious stake in it that Israel’s settlement activities and other activities will only make it more difficult to reach any kind of accommodation over time. [16s]

Israel’s main worry is security and the nuclear talks going on between the US and Iran may add another complex layer to their concerns. Ambassador David Mack is a career diplomat with several assignments across the Middle East and is an expert in regional Security.

MACK: US support for Israel security from physical threats is rock solid and the US has Israel’s back in so far as there are threats to Israel’s territories from Iran or terrorist groups like Hezbollah. [13s]

But Iran is showing signs of change. A preliminary nuclear deal has already been signed pausing some parts  of the Iranian nuclear programme. But  Israelis remember the bellicose statements of  former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

HUGHES: Israelis have good enough reason to be very apprehensive concerned about Iran. The statements of Ahmadinejad were just hateful…to have a nuclear Iran will add a destabilizing new, very concerning, destabilizing effect through the whole region. [15s]

Ambassador Mack believes there are other stumbling blocks to peace within the Israeli and Palestinian camps.

MACK: Two of the obstacles are the weakness of the Palestinian authority government and the sharp divisions within the coalition of Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Netanyahu’s coalition might even have to change.

And it is not at all clear to me that the current Netanyahu government can survive serious peace negotiations and an agreement without falling, having to be reformulated in some way.

It is clear that both the Israelis and the Palestinians, along with the United States, will have their commitment to peace in the region tested as this peace process carries on.

Marie Shabaya, Columbia Radio News.

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