Mose Apelblat

While the Middle East is sliding into chaos, the once promising Arab Spring has turned into winter, and a broad coalition is taking on the fight against the Islamic State, the old Israeli-Palestinian conflict is receiving less attention. The recent Gaza war resulted in an open-ended cease-fire which hasn’t yet been followed by talks in Cairo which were supposed to result in a more sustainable solution to Gaza.

It was the break-down of the peace process which led to the escalations which ignited the Gaza war. However, a restart of the peace process is not likely any day soon – either because the timing is not right when so much else is happening in the region or because both parties to the conflict seem to disqualify each-other as serious peace partners.

Both Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have delivered their speeches at the UN general assembly. Both were uncompromising and did not take the opportunity to propose well-needed confidence building measures.

Abbas who was first to speak seemed to have lost all faith in bilateral peace talks with Israel. While he during the first days of the Gaza war seemed to criticize Hamas for inflicting civilian casualties, he now accused Israel for war crimes and even genocide in Gaza.

Netanyahu used a big part of his speech to rebut Abbas’, unfounded, allegations but did not come up with any concrete ideas on how to move the peace process forward. He expressed a belief in that improved relations between Israel and the Arab states now combatting the Islamic State would impact positively on the prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace.

It is true that Palestinian leaders have a tendency to ask the Arab League for its opinion on any future peace deal and that the League has blocked any progress towards a deal unless such difficult final status issues as Jerusalem and the Palestinian refugee problem are solved. It would be a step in the right direction if the Arab States could moderate their positions on these issues and give the Palestinians leeway to negotiate a peace settlement in their own best interest.

But this does not absolve the Netanyahu government from its responsibility from proposing constructive confidence building measures and, above all, abstaining from any settlement construction during on-going peace talks. Announcements on new settlement construction, as happened during the previous round, are political in nature and intended to obstruct the peace process.

But how likely is it that a government which includes parties which are linked so closely to the settlement movement will give peace a chance?

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