Tiny Oasis of Hope

Jewish Light Editorial

The crises in Egypt and Syria continue to enflame these large neighbors of Israel with no signs that the extreme violence will abate any time soon. That gruesome landscape makes the current Israeli-Palestinian efforts at diplomacy even more striking, but few would have guessed the bloodshed could indirectly have a positive impact on peace talks.

Last week in Egypt, the harsh crackdown by Egypt’s interim government left over 800 Muslim Brotherhood supporters dead and at least 100 Egyptian security forces killed, with hundreds more wounded. In Syria, a United Nations team arrived Monday in Damascus to investigate its findings that the regime of dictatorial President Bashar Assad used sarin gas against its own citizens.

In sharp contrast to the carnage in Egypt and Syria, which has spilled over into Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq, came the formal resumption in Jerusalem last week of peace talks between the governments of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

The fact that the talks are taking place at all seems remarkable. Both leaders fended off massive criticism from the start. Netanyahu took huge heat for the release of Palestinian criminals from prison, and Palestinians reacted sharply to the announcement that Israel was pushing ahead with potentially several thousand residential units in the West Bank.


Large credit for the discussions goes to the painstaking, carefully orchestrated efforts by Secretary of State John Kerry to persuade both sides to return to the negotiating table for what the Associated Press described as a “search of an end to decades of conflict.” The AP story described the talks as taking place at a time when “tensions are high and expectations are low.”

If there’s even a small chance of success for the talks, Kerry gets credit for not only his insistence but also for keeping the discussions “cloaked in secrecy,” as the AP report described. Yet it is the conflagration sweeping the entire region that ironically could have the most positive impact on the negotiations.  

Hamas, the terrorist group which controls the Gaza Strip, has been seriously marginalized in two ways. First, the massive resistance effort against Assad in Syria has weakened one of Hamas’ longtime state partners, and has simultaneously disrupted Hezbollah, another anti-Israel, anti-peace element.

Perhaps more significantly to the peace talks, though, is the fall of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood faction. Politically, the anti-Brotherhood sentiment in Egypt is possibly at an all-time high, which only diminishes Hamas, which began as an offshoot of the Brotherhood. Physically, since Morsi’s ouster, the tunnels through which Iran was able to smuggle rockets into the Gaza Strip have been disrupted, providing on-the-ground limitations to Hamas’ efforts at conflagration.

The contrast between what’s happening in Syria and Egypt, on the one hand, and Israelis and Palestinians, on the other, is fairly substantial. Of course there continue to be flareups coming from Gaza and within the West Bank, but they pale in comparison to the maelstroms in surrounding countries. It cannot hurt the prospect for talks, at least as pertains to Israel and the PA, that Hamas’ partners and enablers continue to lose political traction across the region and are perceived as being on the wrong side of both the Syrian and Egyptian popular fronts.

Netanyahu, who named the moderate Tzipi Livni to lead the discussions, also has to fend off his own hardcore constituencies to keep the talks going. The Israel Homeland Party headed by Naftali Bennett, which is part of Netanyahu’s ruling coalition, could threaten to bring down Bibi’s government if it moves toward a two-state solution. Already, some powerful interests, including the American Sheldon Adelson, have tried to undermine the prisoner release that helped jump start the talks. More moderate Israeli parties, including Labor, have indicated they would join the coalition to assure the continuity of the peace process if other parties bow out.

We’re not ready to declare any breakthroughs yet. Suffice it to say at this point that the more temperate the climate at the table, the higher the chance for engaged dialogue. And given the choice between talking and bloodshed, we almost always prefer to give the former a chance. At this holiday season, let’s hope and pray that it’s a realistic one.

Additional Reading:

•  “Why Israel-Palestininan Peace Talks Will Fail,” David Suissa, Jewish Journal, Aug. 7, http://goo.gl/PPJRYO

•  “Israel Pays a Painful Price for Peace Talks,” Rose Foran, USA Today, Aug. 17, http://goo.gl/a54vbd/

• “Israel’s Livni Sees Peace Talks Aiding Arab World Alliance Shift,” Allyn Fisher-Ilan, Reuters, Aug. 16, http://goo.gl/E8MIKj