It's official –the proximity talks have begun with a meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and American Special Envoy George Mitchell. Israeli diplomatic sources are keen to point out that they are ready for negotiations. But what about the Palestinians?
It was a question discussed on yesterdays Harvest Show – is the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas capable of achieving peace?
Mr. Netanyahu's predecessor, Ehud Olmert, offered a proposal in 2009. Abbas felt no need to reply because he knew that Olmert's days as Prime Minister were numbered. Many analysts believe that that proposal was a good starter from the Palestinian point of view.
But if one looks at the Geneva accords, they will find an even better deal for Mr. Abbas to work with. In essence, Jerusalem would be divided with the Arab areas going to the Palestinians and the Jewish areas going to Israel. The area around the Old City would be placed under a special arrangement.
There would be a very limited Palestinian right of return constituting a few tens of thousands over a twenty-year period. The Palestinians would freely control their areas including the Jordan Valley. All of this would be hard for any Israeli Government to agree to – let alone have the faith in the Palestinian leadership that the risk is worth the peace.
The Palestinian Authority want the talks to succeed, but they themselves appear not to believe it possible for them to succeed. They want to make sure that should the talks fail, the blame would be placed squarely upon Israel. Part of this assessment is because they want the talks to move to direct negotiations within three or four months. They also want an agreement on Israel's withdraw to the 1967 borders, with some territorial concessions.
Even though Mr. Abbas is interested in the talks' success, he has yet to demonstrate any flexibility.
So if what Mr. Olmert offered him last year was not good enough to comment on – how about now…
For the Palestinians, they feel that they have the international community behind them and a friend in the White House. If Abbas will not show any flexibility about anything he has previously agreed to, it looks like the pessimists may be right – that the chances for success of the proximity talks are close to none.
Middle East Correspondent