31 August 2010
Yossi Mekelberg

Professor Yossi Mekelberg

Senior Consulting Research Fellow, Middle East and North Africa Programme


A summit between national leaders has a tendency to evoke high expectations for a breakthrough or at least some progress in relations between their states.
No such excitement surrounds the meeting in Washington this week between the Israeli Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, and the Palestinian President Abu-Mazen.

The murder of four Israeli settlers at the hands of Hamas militants on the eve of the summit serves as a tragic reminder for everyone that there are those that will resort to violence in order to stop any progress in the peace process.

The response from the leaders of the Jewish settlers and the right wing in Israel was predictable, calling to abandon the talks even before they had started. The same vicious cycle that the two sides have endured for so long.

Needless to say the only way to not empower the militants and not to encourage them to carry out further attacks is to move, and as quickly as the constraints allow, towards the path for peace.

What is required is a fully committed US administration and an active European Union participation in bringing about an end to the Israeli occupation and the creation of a viable Palestinian state, established side by side to a secure Israeli state. Both leaderships have to be put to task about their genuine intentions, ability and courage to advance such a difficult process and bring it to a successful conclusion.

It can be argued that the meeting this week in Washington itself is a success. It brings this never-ending conflict back into the international limelight and in this sense can be regarded as an achievement for President Obama, who hasn't seen much progress in his efforts to bring peace, since his famous speech in Cairo in June 2009.

Some will even point to the presence of President Mubarak of Egypt and King Abdullah of Jordan in these meetings as a firm endorsement from at least some parts of the Arab world. However, both sides have already started the post-summit damage limitation exercise, accusing each other just before leaving to Washington about the possible failure of negotiations.

Both question each other's willingness and capacity to carry on their shoulders the necessary compromises when negotiating the core issues at the heart of the conflict, including borders, security, swap of territories, let alone the more emotive and intricate issues of Jerusalem as the capital of two independent political entities and resolving the more than six decades long Palestinian refugees' misery.

The reality is that both leaders represent fragmented and weak governments and political systems. Their survival in power depends more on inaction rather than a bold move towards a solution. The best that anyone can expect of the meeting under these circumstances is the usual fanfare which characterises such summits and a commitment to continuous negotiations under the umbrella of the Quartet, without any pledges to make any necessary concessions needed for an agreement. The objective observer can be forgiven for having a sense of deja vu a few times over.