RAMALLAH – Direct talks between Palestinian and Israeli leaders are the most obvious way to achieve peace in the Middle East conflict. But history has shown time and again that a high-profile peace process alone is no recipe for success.
The Arab League is set to meet later this month to advise the Palestinian leadership whether or not to engage in direct talks with Israel. Palestinian officials say that there is no use in holding direct talks that are nothing more than a photo opportunity intended to create the impression of a peace process while avoiding any substantive commitments.
For Palestinians, the first step in real peace talks must include some accord on the basic issues of borders and security. The Palestinians have presented to their Israeli counterparts (through the Americans) a written offer that includes giving up lands occupied by Israel in 1967 and now populated by Israeli settlers. These lands would be swapped for other lands equal in size and importance. Israel has yet to produce a single written document outlining its position on the territory that will become a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
Israel insists that any serious progress will happen only if both sides can sit at the negotiating table face to face. According to this view, Netanyahu's right-wing coalition might be persuaded to accept the continuation of the partial settlement freeze, but only if the Israeli public sees President Mahmoud Abbas and Netanyahu publicly engaged in negotiations. But the history of such negotiations tells a much different story.