As the Israelis and Palestinians get started again today on formal peace talks, lets look at the main issues and see where they stand.
We have heard time and time again Mr. Netanyahu use the term “Security” – what Israel is largely referring to is the fear that a Palestinian state might one day fall into the hands of Palestinian radicals, be they Hamas or someone else, who will be flat out wanton of Israel's destruction. Therefore it is insisting that it keeps a security control over any future entity, and that that entity be a demilitarised one.
The Palestinians believe that true security for Israel will come from a viable Palestinian State with economic prosperity and freedom of movement. They fear anything less will grant groups like Hamas they leverage to overtake the people's opinion and overthrow, whether by ballot or bullet, the Palestinian government.
One topic that has always been prevalent, but now even more as the construction freeze deadline nears, is that of the “Settlements”. The Israeli government insists on keeping the major Israeli settlements in the Arab parts of Jerusalem and the West Bank. Any type of withdrawal scenario, such as that of the Gaza pullout a few years ago, would lead to a serious coalition crisis for Mr. Netanyahu and also potentially divide the Israeli public.
The Palestinians would like all settlements to be abandoned, as they are built upon lands, in their view, that will be part of the future Palestinian state. But in the past, we have heard the leadership voice a willingness to either accept the Jewish settlers as 'citizens' of a Palestinian state, or receive proportionate areas in continuity in the framework of a land swap deal.
“Jerusalem” by far is the toughest of the topics. This current Israeli government has, until yesterday, said it will not relinquish power over the Arab parts of Jerusalem. As in the past negotiations, dispite the hardline rhetoric, there appears to be wiggle room to a small degree as in the negotiations carried out in 2000 and 2007, the Israeli governments signaled releasing some outlying districts.
The Palestinians want the Arab parts of Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state. This would include the Old City, but it is unlikely that it, in total, would be allocated for such a status.
This then leads us to “Borders”. Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been made to accept that there should be a Palestinian state. In this he must navigate that there will have to be Israeli withdrawal from at least parts of the West Bank that is under Israeli control. Israel will insist it's borders will include Jerusalem and the major Israeli settlements in the West Bank, along with buffer zones to accommodate it's security concerns including control of the Jordan Valley.
The Palestinians have long stated that they wish these negotiations to start from the basic position that all the land occupied by Israel in 1967 belongs to a future Palestinian state. Thus in doing so, any land given to the Israelis would have to be compensated for in a balanced land swap.
Lastly, there is the human element of “Refugees”. Israel flat out rejects the idea that Palestinian refugees from previous wars be allowed any “right of return” to their former homes. They believe this would undermine their demographic and ultimately mean the end of Israel in a few generations. This is one of the reasons why you may have heard Mr. Netanyahu calling for the Palestinians and the Arab residents of Israel to formally recognize it as a Jewish state.
The Palestinians maintain the “right of return” for refugees, but have hinted to the agreement of a very limited number of individuals to return, and that the issue can be solved through monetary compensation.