Mideast talks: Is there a way for a new Camp David?

World and We
Sergey Strokan is a journalist, essayist and a poet. He is also a political commentator with Russia's “Kommersant” Publishing House. Mr. Strokan hosts “Red Line”, a weekly analytical program broadcast by The Voice of Russia in New York City. He is the author of three poetry collections, a winner of the Maximilian Voloshin International Literary Award (2010) and a member of Union of Russian Writers.
Mideast talks: Is there a way for a new Camp David?
Israeli-Palestinian peace talks stalled for the last three years are due to re-commence in the United States shortly, despite public skepticism and deep-seated mistrust shown by Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

While no date for the talks is set US Secretary of State John Kerry said that Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and his Israeli counterpart, former vice-premier and ex-head of the Kadima party Tzipi Livni are to meet in Washington in coming weeks. The resumption of the Mideast peace process, had been pronounced dead by most of political pundits until John Kerry's announcement last Friday.

The agreement to bring the warring sides to the negotiating table is seen as the latest leap of US shuttle diplomacy in the region – denounced by the army of critics and welcomed only by the few unruffled optimists. US officials themselves describe the upcoming talks as “an enormous challenge” and by saying so they do have a point.

In fact, as things stand now, the two sides have very little to offer each other and there are no signs they are ready for even a modest compromise. The talks, which would be advertised as President Obama’s most sound Mideast initiative after his re-election last November, are lacking a new roadmap, with no deadlines and clearly-defined goals announced. Probably, this is the reason why the initial expectations are so low. While the Obama administration is impatient to restart the talks, the sides show basic disagreement on core issues, including borders, Palestinian’s recognition of Israel, construction of Jewish settlements in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories, the problem of Palestinian refugees and the final status of East Jerusalem.

AFP Photo / Abbas Momani

Moreover, this time there is no way of brokering a deal with no broad public support both in Israel and in Palestine. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas have already announced this week that if agreed, the Israeli-Palestinian peace deal should get an all-national stamp of approval at referendums both in Israel and in Palestine.

But is the situation around the US-sponsored new talks that abnormal? One can hardly say that. For years all efforts to resolve the conflict looked like diplomacy’s Sisyphus job. Sisyphus, a Greek hero was condemned to roll the stone up the mountain only to watch it fall, and so did Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams and mediating powers. 

The latest efforts to revive the Mideast process evoke a strong feeling of deja vu. It is high time to recall that the upcoming meeting in Washington comes at the 13th anniversary of the direct Israeli-Palestinian talks at Camp David. The two-week summit, which ended on July 25, 2000, proved to be a gruelling negotiating marathon, involving the then Israeli Prime-Minister Ehud Barak, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and mediating President Clinton. As for Clinton, he was so obsessed with the idea of bringing the troubled region an olive branch of peace and to go into the history books as a person who made Israeli and Palestinians abandon the “eye for an eye” principle, that he was reported to be able to draw a map of Jerusalem blindfolded.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak (L), US President Bill Clinton (C), and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat pause for a photo as they tour Laurel Cabin, the site where former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, and US President Jimmy Carter conducted peace talks in 1978, during the Middle East Peace Summit 11 July 2000 at Camp David, Maryland, the US presidential mountain top retreat (AFP Photo)

At one point it seemed that the compromise was so near, as the sides were inching to a historic deal, however, Sisyphus has finally seen his rock falling from the top of the Camp David hill. The talks ended with no agreement signed.  And it took only two months for “Intifada Al-Aqsa” – a new Palestinian rebellion to set the region in flames.

What triggered the conflict and crippled President Clinton’s mediating efforts 13 years ago was a notorious visit paid by the then Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon to Temple Mount in Old Jerusalem. It was a highly symbolic gesture to denounce the tentative compromise reached at Camp David. Maverick Sharon’s message to Prime Minister Barack was crystal clear: remember, the sons of the land of the Jews, like me, would never ever allow a single inch of the Jerusalem to be seeded to Palestinians. No surprise that Palestinians found it deeply insulting, and this is what made Palestinians revolt  in the streets.

As the day of the new Israeli-Palestinian negotiations nears, the key question is whether there is any way to revive the effort of Camp David and make the new talks more effective, or President Obama’s latest initiative is a nonstarter. 

This is the question of whether Sisyphus can win his battle with the rock. 

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.