Middle East peace talks: four reasons not to be cynical
Yes, there are huge obstacles. But the advantages of talking over fighting can't be discounted. Peace talks slow the killing, promote civil society, and may shift the dynamics in the region for a more stable future.
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Privately, Palestinian Authority officials say that they will be unable to overcome the challenges posed by rival political party Hamas (a terrorist organization in Washington's eyes) unless ways can be found to improve the lives of Palestinians in the West Bank. The standard of living there has yet to return to the levels of 2000. The Palestinian Authority currently runs a budget deficit of 60 percent, and unemployment stands at nearly 20 percent. It is able to operate only thanks to international assistance, much of it from the West.Skip to next paragraph
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For Israel, the most immediate gain from the opening of talks has been to reduce its international isolation. Israelis across the political spectrum understandably resent what they see as global bias against them. But relations with other governments, especially with previously friendly governments such as Turkey, have been damaged by Israel's heavy-handed unilateralism.
The resumption of peace talks may also reflect Israel's anxious desire to finally resolve a conflict that could sever the next generation of American Jews from their Israeli counterparts.
Deep divides among Israelis
Decades of violence have produced deep splits among young Israelis and led more of them toward views that conflict with democratic values. A recent poll conducted by Tel Aviv University found that 48 percent of Israeli high school students would refuse direct orders to evacuate settlements in the West Bank, while nearly half said Israeli-Arabs are not entitled to the same rights as Jews in Israel.
Opinion among young non-Orthodox American Jews, according to studies by pollster Frank Luntz, Steven Cohen of Hebrew Union College, and Ari Kelman of the University of California at Davis, shows less division and more of a growing indifference to Israel together with a deep longing for peace. These are quiet long-term consequences of the years of violence and confrontation, but they are signals that Israel's leaders cannot ignore.
For the Obama administration, the talks not only mark the culmination of nearly two years of politically costly hard work; they also offer a rare opportunity to shift the dynamics of the region away from war and terrorism, reducing the atmosphere of crisis that favors radicals. If the talks succeed, the process could be broadened to include Lebanon and Syria, Iraq, and even Iran.
The talks need not solve every problem immediately in order to improve the well-being of Israelis and Palestinians, but if the parties fail to move convincingly toward peace, the benefits of "jaw-jaw" will be lost to "war-war."