Editorial: Are the times a-changin’?


If you believe that Middle East peace talks cannot succeed, you probably ought not read any further.

We’re not interested in mimicking the pundits who remind us again and again why talks are doomed to failure (see examples of such in Editor-in-Chief Emeritus Bob Cohn’s opinion piece on page 9). Of course they can fail, given the fragile and unsuccessful history of negotiation attempts. But for us, while it is instructive to learn from history, it is pointless to succumb to it.

So for the benefit of optimists everywhere (and yes, that includes us), we offer six reasons to support why, from the Palestinian side alone, the direct talks scheduled to begin in early September could potentially reap tangible rewards:

1. A generational and leadership shift is occurring. Israeli independence occurred over a half century ago; the wars of 1967 and 1973 are now four decades behind us. The children of the children of Palestinians who were fomenting hostility toward Israel may have grown up inculcated with hate, but they’re now responsible for the own families’ futures and have seen that violence is singularly unsuccessful in promoting financial security.

New Mt. Sinai Cemetery advertisement

2. The new generation has seen Israel morph into a world research and technology power. Dan Senor and Saul Singer, authors of “Start Up Nation,” told a compelling story about the work and diligence of Israelis in forging new business opportunities that reach international markets. This kind of transformative power is staring Palestinians in the face.

3. The West Bank is developing. No, it’s not there yet, and yes, the settlement question and security concerns put a damper on progress. But the prospect of prosperity is far more tangible than ever before, and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, a former World Bank economist, is a huge reason. His guidance, along with a perceived path to financial stability, are why…

4. Gaza residents are becoming frustrated. Recent polls in Gaza indicate that the population is wearying of Hamas’ avoidant finger-pointing. It was a huge deal in Gaza that a “mall” just opened with 10 stores and a total size less than half a typical American chain store like Best Buy. Shouldn’t their aspirations be set a bit higher than that? They are starting to answer in the affirmative.

5. “Any port in a storm” for Hamas is quickly becoming no port at all. The flotilla strategy is petering out after it’s been recognized for what it is (and how does one both build a shopping center and claim there are no building materials available at the same time?); the Arab League and the Quartet (U.S., Russia, European Union and the United Nations) have supported talks. Where is the Palestinian side going to turn for support – Iran? Syria? Lebanon? Those sides are hardly standing at the peak of their world popularity right now. Hamas can try to be disruptive, but it’s quite possible that could result in watching the dance from the sidelines.

6. The U.S. is calling in its chits. The last year and a half has seen the United States demonstrate its earnestness in getting to this point. The Department of State’s Special Envoy George Mitchell, negotiator extraordinaire, was one of the early key appointees of President Barack Obama. The administration’s diplomacy toward the Arab world and criticism of continued settlement activity, seen as betrayal by many Israeli and world Jews, is a huge part of what garnered the Arab League’s support for talks (just as getting Russia and China to support U.N. sanctions against Iran was a huge part of what got Israel to the table).

There’s no reason to think the U.S. will relent on the pressure it’s very deliberately constructed.

Certainly the factors of yesteryear loom large. PA President Mahmoud Abbas may have little stroke with Hamas or Islamic Jihad if they want to remain linked to the Iran axis, and he is still mired in the tactics of years gone by (as when he announced this week that the talks will end in late September if Israel discontinues the West Bank settlement freeze). And no doubt the more reactionary factions on both the Palestinian and Israeli sides will do their utmost to thwart progress.

But ultimately, the key to success in negotiations is satisfying self-interest, and making failure more painful than accomplishment. There are more Palestinians than ever whose upside rests on the plowshare rather than the sword, and the tangible economic steps in the West Bank show what’s possible.

The end game arrives when the political will catches up to the changing reality on the ground. It is anyone’s guess as to when the tipping point will occur, but our view is that it could be sooner than later. If the parties can hang in there long enough and repel the omnipresent static, there’s enough in a prospective deal to make it better than the alternative.