“It’s blabber, but without it the situation is getting worse” – Russian analyst

US, Washington: President Barack Obama (R) talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel (C) and President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority (L) during an event in the East Room to make statements on the peace process on September 1, 2010 at the White House in Washington, DC. (AFP Photo / Tim Sloan)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas are expected to sit down together on Thursday for the first round of peace talks in nearly two years.

RT turned to prominent Russian analysts to hear their views on the possible outcome of the long-awaited meeting.

“These talks are neither first nor direct. They are starting under American pressure, and by October or November they will reach a deadlock,” Aleksey Malashenko, an analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center, told RT.

The talks have been on and off in various formats since 1967, he said, and expectations were high on dozens of occasions. “This time Israel will most likely lead the talks into a deadlock again. It won’t budge on the status of Jerusalem, the return of five million refugees and West Bank settlements,” Malashenko noted.

Mr. Malashenko thinks that the main shortcoming of the new round is that neither of the parties has identified any specific goals.

“Blabber is necessary, because without it the situation is getting worse, primarily for Israel. If there are no talks, there will be no Israel. However, everyone understands that there is no proper representative of the Palestinian side,” Malashenko believes.

Israeli ambassador to Moscow Anna Azari talks about the “Palestinian side” cautiously: “We hope that Israel will find a serious partner on the Palestinian side who will follow the steps of Anwar El Sadat and King Hussein.”

She appreciates the efforts of George Mitchell, US special envoy for Middle East peace, and of the Middle East Quartet, yet points out that “we believe it was us who initiated the talks.”

Political analyst Geydar Dzhemal agrees that it is Israel who needs these talks. “By talking to the Palestinians, Israel gets the illusion of being a legitimate state. It suffers from the lack of this legitimacy. But Israel chose a partner who won’t be able to convince anyone. Abu Mazen is a dummy, a puppet of Israel. Conducting talks with your own puppets is a tactic that has been widely known since the times of Quisling, who conducted talks with Hitler,” said Dzhemal.

Obama seeking a breakthrough

“Obama and his team are looking for at least some sort of a breakthrough in US relations with the Islamic world. They have already come to an impasse in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Middle East is a symbol to the Islamic world. If Obama finds a way out of the stalemate, this will be a breakthrough in US relations with the Islamic world,” Aleksey Malashenko says.

Geydar Dzhemal is more skeptical. “The only reason why the US and Israel need these talks is good publicity. They don’t care if the talks are successful or not. Abu Mazen must act as if he is a bona fide representative of the Palestinians, and he pretends to make demands on Israel. What’s important to Obama is that he was the one who started these talks. If Israel leads the negotiations into a deadlock, Obama will score some points by taking a ‘tougher’ stance on Israel, which is also a game of make-believe.”

Malashenko believes it is America’s fault that the situation is getting worse. The US, he says, wasted too much time, instead of dealing with the root cause. “The Americans have got themselves entangled in nasty conflicts all over the world. They are losing them all, and they can’t get out of any of those conflicts. They have no solutions, and it’s about time they admitted that. The more concessions they make, the more aggressive the Muslims become. Yet if they make fewer concessions, the Muslims become more aggressive regardless.”

Nonetheless, Malashenko predicts that sooner or later the Obama administration will agree to involve the moderate wing of Hamas in the talks. “It would be impossible to have talks without them. Everybody understands that. The days of ignoring Hamas are over,” he said.

Israeli ambassador Anna Azari does not regard this viewpoint as acceptable for Israel:

“Hamas is known for its unwillingness to compromise. We hope there will be no serious provocations by Hamas. We know from experience that terrorist organizations don’t like progress in the peace process and respond with more terrorist attacks,” Azari said.

Malashenko, on the contrary, is convinced that declarations about talks with Hamas being impossible are on their way out. “Arafat said a long time ago that Arab women will solve the conflict. In five to seven years, it will become obvious that the Palestinian population will be dominant, and Israel will have to give in on its principle of not negotiating with Hamas just like they gave in on the principle of not negotiating with Arafat.”

In addition, Malashenko does not rule out that, as the first step, Israel may lift the Gaza blockade:

“They will have to begin somewhere. It’s a lengthy process. If they lift the blockade, this may affect the entire course of the talks, which at this point don’t look very promising to any of the parties.”

Palestine: talks are illegitimate

Palestinian journalist and analyst Abdallah Issa is not expecting the blockade to be removed as a result of the talks, and he believes that their pointlessness is now obvious to the Arab world.

Issa noted that “Israel is not going to implement any agreements – the construction freeze expires on September 26. But Palestinian homes are being destroyed while the freeze is still in effect, and Palestinians are getting evicted from their land. The Arab world represented by the League of Arab States has disclaimed all responsibility for these talks. They are useless and are held merely to please the Americans.”

Israel keeps it no secret that the freeze is going to expire on September 26.

“We do not see any need to continue the freeze, especially now that the settlement pattern of the territory to be retained by Israel is clear. For us, the true objective is the talks, but it turns out that the constructions freeze was dragged on for nine months, because for some the construction freeze was an end in itself. We need to talk about the borders, and then there will be no need for any freeze,” insists Ambassador Anna Azari.

Abdallah Issa believes that the Palestinians were talked into participating in the negotiations by Hillary Clinton saying that they otherwise would lose their face. “Yet, the Americans know it well that Abbas is seen by many Palestinians as an illegitimate leader, which makes any talks with his participation also illegitimate, including those on the subject of borders and settlements. Running talks without Hamas is a shady undertaking with no future. All the involved parties understand this, although they are trying to avoid bringing it up. But such talks will yield no result,” says Issa.

Anna Azari says that failure is unavoidable if you set yourself up for a failure. “The ideas are laid out on the negotiating table. To what extent are the parties ready to come to an agreement?”

“Occupation fails its purpose”

Anna Azari repeated Israel’s three major requirements worded by Netanyahu: security, acknowledgement of Israel as a nation state of Jewish people, and an end to the conflict.

Israeli analyst Alexander Eterman doubts not that Israel’s government already sees that, should the talks end in failure, it is going to backfire on Israel.

“Two options that are equally dreaded by Israel have become a possibility: one is formation of the Palestinian nation state without Israel’s approval, but backed up by the global and, first and foremost, US support. The other is the formation of a united bi-national state stretching from Jordan to the Mediterranean dominated by Arabs. The key to avoiding both lies with the success of talks with Palestine,” insists Eterman.

He believes that the occupation as it is now is doomed to end in but a few years.

“Occupation doesn’t justify its purpose anymore. Its time is over. It is bound to end within the next five to seven years in any case. Therefore it makes sense for Israel to sell its approval of the Palestinian nation state while the world is ready to pay for it. Israel needs to improve its international perception and to finally become a part of the Middle East.”

The occupation in numbers

“About 300,000 Palestinians live in the West Bank, and about half of them are settled in Jerusalem. The number of settlements in the West Bank is about 200, including small villages. There is no doubt that Palestine will not leave it like that. Yet the situation has long since been analyzed by experts. Under the land swap plan involving swap of 2 to 2,5% of the West Bank territory for the land in the Negev, only 70-80 thousand people will need to be relocated. That means that about 80,000 people (aside from Jerusalem population) will stay to live in Israel,” explains the Israeli analyst.

He believes that Israel is bound to return to the borderlines of 1967 with minor adjustments for the land swap (about 100-150 square kilometers).

“Jerusalem will be divided according to Clinton’s proposal: Jewish districts will belong to Israel while Arab ones to Palestine; refugees (say 99%) will be able to return to Palestine, but not to Israel. Palestine will become a demilitarized state.” And he considers that these things are negotiable in two weeks’ time. “Yet complex technical issues remain open – such as borders regulation, connection of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, water resources policy, and other issues.”

Russian analyst and journalist Andrey Pravov believes that only part of Israeli society shares this point of view, while today the talks are run by Benjamin Netanyahu who does not consider the land occupied and has a vision of Israel stretching from coast to coast.

Eterman, though supporting an opposite viewpoint, still sees some positive aspects to Netanyahu’s leadership: “Israeli delegation consists of personal associates of the premier. There will be no top officials on the team. Netanyahu’s personal lawyer Isaac Molho, who often acts as the premier’s special envoy, will be appointed the chief negotiator. Thus, the talks will be essentially run by the Prime Minister himself, and not by Israel’s establishment. This inspires hope, as unexpected as it may seem.”

Key Issues

Andrey Pravov thinks it is essential that Netanyahu said that the freeze will not be continued.

“No matter how much pressure may come from the Americans, Palestine is not going to participate on such terms. Abbas will never allow it. Should the US choose to support the viewpoint that the freeze can’t be called off, this will meet no support in Israel.”

Alexander Eterman also thinks that it is essential for talks to start before September 26, when the temporary construction freeze expires. He believes that, unless the negotiations start before that date, they run the risk of getting ruined.

Pravov points out yet another issue he believes to be important: “Palestine is expected to acknowledge Israel not merely as a political state but as nation state of Jewish people.” He recalls that that’s exactly what the Arabs refused to acknowledge when Israel proclaimed itself as a Jewish state.

“What about more than a million Arabs living in Israel? Palestine cannot agree to discuss the question in such a light,” believes the Russian analyst.

Eterman elaborated further:

“A special requirement – the one to have Israel acknowledged as a nation state of Jewish people – was introduced as a mandatory precondition for peace by Olmert’s government in order to slow down the negotiations process launched by the Annapolis conference in 2007.”

The majority of analysts seem to agree that the outcome of this initiative will become clearer within the next few weeks, and it will not at all be defined by what really is going in the land whose fate is being negotiated in Washington.

Nadezhda Kevorkova, RT