Mideast peace talks to look forward to?

[Sounds too good to be true.]

By David Makovsky, WaPo

The announcement Friday that Middle East peace talks would be launched Sept. 2 was not exactly met with an outpouring of enthusiasm. Yet progress on security and other issues suggests there is reason to believe peace talks can produce results.

There has been a surge in cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) ever since Hamas ousted security officials and the mainstream Fatah Party from Gaza more than three years ago. I recently spent five weeks in the region, where I met with more than four dozen Israeli and Palestinian officials, including President Mahmoud Abbas. Cooperation is increasingly evident in several areas.

Security cooperation between the PA and Israel has substantially improved. In 2002, 410 Israelis were killed by suicide bombings and other attacks emanating from the West Bank; in the past three years, Israel has suffered one fatality from one such attack. Speaking in Washington this year, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said the situation on the ground “is better than any time in the past.” Israeli charges that the Palestinians have a “revolving door” approach of releasing terrorists after quick arrests — rampant during the Arafat era — are no longer heard. A Palestinian nonviolent protest movement has been born.

For its part, the PA no longer attempts to hide its daily security cooperation with Israel. In recent months, the PA even hosted Israeli senior security officials in Jenin, Tulkaram and Jericho. During the Gaza conflict of 2008-09, the PA kept the West Bank calm. Because of the improved security, Israel has reduced the number of major manned checkpoints in the West Bank from 42 in 2008 to 14. The checkpoints that remain include more passage lanes, resulting in substantially reduced wait times. And the improved security and other efforts by reformist Prime Minister Salam Fayyad have resulted in a West Bank economic growth rate of 8.5 percent.

Religious and education reforms have started, including a major effort to identify those imams who agitate for suicide bombings. PA Religion Minister Mahmoud Habbash told me, and Israeli security officials confirm, that such imams have been removed from all Palestinian mosques under PA jurisdiction. “Hamas has been running our mosques for 30 years, and we are trying to take the mosques back so they are used only for prayer,” Habbash told me.

The PA has begun reshaping the curriculum of Palestinian institutions that accredit imams, and screening is also being conducted to weed out schoolteachers who support Hamas radicalism. PA security officials say 1,100 of the 28,000 Palestinian teachers in the West Bank have been replaced. Incitement would be further reduced if, among other things, the practice of naming town squares and camps after the killers of yesteryear ended.

The Israelis have also demonstrated change. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu publicly endorsed a two-state solution last summer, and his 10-month moratorium on settlement activity in the West Bank has demonstrated more restraint than any of his predecessors. It is unclear whether the moratorium, scheduled to expire next month, will be extended — a question that could derail the nascent effort. And whereas former prime minister Ariel Sharon sought to retain control over large chunks of the West Bank, to prevent attacks from the east, Israeli officials suggest that Netanyahu is far more concerned with effective security measures around the West Bank border, to prevent the sort of smuggling that exists from Egypt to Gaza, than with annexing land.

Negotiators want to begin peace talks with the issues of security and borders, as each side knows well what the other side wants. Even differences over territory are unlikely to be insurmountable. The last time the parties tried to hold quiet talks, in 2008, they differed over just 4 percent of the West Bank. Abbas has said he knows that Israel will keep West Bank settlements adjacent to Israeli cities, and Israel is likely to provide the Palestinians an offsetting amount of land within the Israeli border.

There are two issues that are not about quiet policy shifts but will require conditioning of the populations: Jerusalem and refugees — the narrative issues of the conflict that cut to the self-definition of the parties. The difficulties surrounding these issues have led some to question Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s call to complete the talks in one year. But the hope is that progress on security and borders will facilitate political traction on these thornier topics.

If, however, that does not happen, the parties need to find ways to grapple with these final issues in a manner that does not cause other progress to unravel.

Are there risks to talks? Of course. Abbas told me that Iran gives Hamas $500 million a year, and it is likely that Tehran will try to upend negotiations.

Yet inaction also poses risks. Fayyad’s efforts at Palestinian institution-building and security cooperation are succeeding because they are packaged as part of the effort to build a state. A bottom-up push focused on security and economic institutions will not be sustainable unless it is joined by a top-down effort.

David Makovsky is a distinguished fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, where he directs the Project on the Middle East Peace Process. He co-authored, with Dennis Ross, “Myths, Illusions, and Peace.”

August 25, 2010 | 3 Comments »

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  1. David Makovsky is a distinguished fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, where he directs the Project on the Middle East Peace Process. He co-authored, with Dennis Ross, “Myths, Illusions, and Peace.”

    I know Makovsky well from when he was editor of the JPP THE JERUSALEM PRAVDA POST. Then he was one of the main Cheerleaders for OSLO and all the subsequent Israel retreats. He is an Arab Lover and Jew Hater. his collaboration with Dennis Muhammad Ross should tell any reader what he needs to know about this piece of offal.

    What this liar never says is that the so called building boom is all paid for by outside donations and that includes Israels contribution of 1.5-2 billion shekels a year so they may better to kill us with.

    There is no real pali economy there are a few rich or wealthier crooks and still most of the Palis on the west bank live just slightly better than their relatives over the Jordan. Hamas is still the most popular political movement and who knows how many of the American trained and equiped army of Palis are either members or sympathizers with Hamas?

    One has only to read IMRA or the less popular Israeli news sources to know that terror has not ceased only their rate of success. The Shabak with or without the aid of the PA, has a tight grip on the security situation because the IDF is there and controls the West Bank. Abbas who has zero support and is still sitting in office a year after his term was up rfused to go to new elections because he knew Hamas would win. He is illegally holding on to the office of president of the PA.

    The Pali Kleptocracy has not changed only maybe some of the kleptomaniacs at the top.

    You don’t need long term program to stop incitement or reform an eduction system especially in a dictatorial regime. That same regime is sponsoring a total boycott of all Israeli made products. Peace Makovsky>

    They don’t know who those sneaky Imans are who preach sedition and hatred against Israel? Get real they pay their salaries and their secret police know who is who and where they are. In one hour they would be gone if Abbas or Fayyad wanted it so.

    That Makovsky wants to hype the Pali Potemkin Village narrative is true to his political world view and agenda but none of what he wrote is true except the most superficial parts of his article.

  2. If I didn’t know better I would have thought that “Barney the Dinosaur” authored this op-ed. With this “I love you, you love me. We’re all friends like friends should be” that is fit for PBS or NPR. Total rubbish. The PA is a corrupt kleptocracy and teaches (in Arabic) its children to destroy Israel. As for David Makovsky, “Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me, fool me thrice…?!”.

  3. email rec’d

    Fayyad’s education reform package was just announced – in fact, this is the
    first mention of it I’ve seen in English. He’s pledged to eliminate
    fundamentalism and extremism from the curriculum, which will be a long term
    project indeed but is something that so far no one in the PA has set about
    doing. (This means those flags of Greater Palestine will have to go.) Your
    PalWatch YouTube only underscores the need for these reforms, which Fayyad
    announced, in Arabic, on August 8. And Bibi’s first term was 14 years ago,
    so I’m not sure what that point has to do with anything relevant to today.

    Being dependent on foreign aid is also a consequence of being under
    occupation. When you autonomously control about 10% of your own territory,
    this tends to put a damper on attracting international investors outside of
    chancelleries. Even still, the economic improvements are concrete and real.
    (Judge for yourself by dialing up the Portland Trust, a UK think tank which
    monitors Palestinian economic development.) The Pal stock exchange just
    launched its first venture capital fund. A $500 million mortgage fund is
    helping the already booming housing industry, particularly around Ramallah.
    Cinema Jenin just reopened after 20 years. The first planned city of Rawabi,
    just north of Ramallah, is underway….

    All of this is a function of bolstered security which comes from both IDF
    cooperation but also a zero-tolerance policy on the part of the PA’s own
    security forces, a portion of whom were American-trained. (You know you’re
    doing something right when all allegations of human rights abuses in the
    West Bank are aimed not at the IDF but at your own cops). As to the ‘fence’
    – yes, well, part of it’s just come down near Gilo, hasn’t it? This used to
    be a cynosure of terror. Do you think the Israelis would have undertaken
    that measure if they didn’t have the confidence in Palestinian self-policing
    that Makovsky’s piece suggests they do?

    More important to understand, however, is that the
    institution/state-building effort is an attempt to cleave the government
    away from Fatah, which is why it’s being met with such internal resistance.
    Democracy is as much about transparency and accountability as it is about
    polling. So yes, Fayyad lacks ‘legitimacy’ amongst Arafat era apparatchiks.
    Good for him. That’s de-legitimisation I can believe in.

    What short memories we seem to have. In 2006, the hasbara line was, “No PA
    elections just yet – too soon!” And that was borne out by the reality of
    Hamas’s sweep. Now it’s, “Forget the peace talks, the PA reformer isn’t even
    properly elected!”

    Also, if Bibi’s been banging on about direct talks for months, to no avail,
    surely he was as naive and short-sighted then, when it was in our interest
    to mention this fact and yet not attack him for it, as he is now that he’s
    got what he wanted?