EDITORIAL – Another shot at Middle East peace
YET ANOTHER ATTEMPT is being made by the Obama administration to get the Middle East talks going again. Peace envoy George Mitchell is once again in the region, but there is little that has emerged in recent times to give a semblance of hope. No wonder the current round of negotiations and indirect talks between the Palestinians and Israelis with Egyptian leadership in Cairo, with Mitchell, has been greeted with all-round scepticism and cynicism across the Arab world. Given the long history of Palestine-Israel engagement and Israeli cat-and-mouse games with the Palestinians, this cynicism is hardly unjustified. When President Barack Obama assumed office with his enthusiastic efforts to kick-start the peace process, the Palestinians and the larger Arab-Muslim world had hoped that things would change for the better. No such luck after a year and a half! Yet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has laid down new ground rules for interaction. To start the process, he believes that Israel must agree to the idea of a third-party guarding the borders of a future Palestinian state. Mr Abbas has set this as a precondition before direct talks could begin. Though realistic at first blush, it won’t make any headway. Israel, which is conducting its own judicial inquiry into the raid on an aid flotilla that killed nine Turkish activists on board, is unlikely to even lend an attentive ear. Rather, the preconditions advanced by Abbas might only serve as an excuse for Israel to come up with its own proposals, thus delaying any meaningful talks. His proposal is worth considering. Though he had earlier refused to join indirect “proximity talks” with Israel unless it halts the construction of settlements, Abbas has made an interesting point. By underscoring the need and necessity of a third party entrusted with the mandate of guarding the new frontiers of the Palestinian state, Abbas has come up with a concession of sorts, which could lead to a breakthrough, if the parties are willing to achieve lasting peace. The creation of an independent state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital, is an undeniable principle of Palestinian struggle for many years. The world community is committed to such an objective, and it is high time it prevails over Israel to accede to this objective. Until and unless Israel agrees to trade land for peace and return to the 1967 borders, the region will continue to simmer with unrest and instability. Abbas has simply stated the obvious: Israel must address the two-state solution. Equality before international law is paramount. When countries such as Iran are isolated and stringent sanctions imposed upon them, equally countries, however powerful, should be subject to the same punishment. This is only being reasonable, given the fate of long, fruitless negotiations the Palestinians have had with the other side. This is the only way out of the current mess and it’s time everyone recognised it.