A group of Asharq al-Awsat commentators have weighed in to discuss the direct talks between Israel and the PA. It's a mixed bag of naivete, delusion, lies, hatred, skepticism, ignorance, bogus conventional wisdom, oppressive worry, realpolitik, actual wisdom and occasional flashes of insight.
Dr. Mamoun Fandy (outside of the region) presents six "signs" that make him think that Obama is optimistic about the direct talks. These are:
* There is a 1 year deadline, which he thinks indicates "at least 70%" confidence. It is hard to understand why he thinks this. Many "deadlines" have come and gone already. For example, Bibi Netanyahu froze settlements, a freeze that is intended to expire in September. Mahmoud Abbas burned an entire year and now will start negotiating just as the freeze expires, giving him an excuse to immediately quit negotiations. (Has anyone else noticed this?)
* He thinks that Sen. Mitchell's shuttle diplomacy has contributed to this confidence, and he hopes (apparently) that this will result in a historic victory for Obama entering the election season. He can keep on hoping; I see no reason why Obama administration policy vis a vis the Middle East will be any wiser than it has heretofore. Obama/Clinton/Mitchell have already nearly destroyed the peace process by encouraging Abbas to become even more uselessly intransigent, before finally backing off.
* He thinks that Obama has a blueprint that is "almost acceptable to all parties." I would like to hear what this blueprint is supposed to be; even the BBC is asking whether the administration has any plan at all, and I certainly have not heard anything that would work.
* I will actually quote the 4th "sign" because it is kind of an unusual perspective:
The fourth sign is that Israel and the United States have agreements on a number of common interests in the region. The most important of which is the stability of the Gulf region as a source of energy, preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear bomb, and peace in return for [access to] the Gulf markets – in other words, a peace agreement would open the Gulf markets to Israel, and undermine Iran's nuclear capability.Aside from implying that Israel may actually favor stability in the Arab world (which it does, but Arab commentators either don't grasp this or rarely admit to it), he is not shying away from defining what normalization might mean. Of course, he phrases it in a way that casts it as an agreement between Israel and the US, not a proposed offer by the Arabs.
* He is encouraged by the invitation of Mubarak and King Abdullah, because
This invitation could be seen as a ‘vaccination’ or "inoculation" against the failure of the 1998 Clinton – Arafat agreement where Yasser Arafat and the Israelis reached an agreement under the auspices of former US President Bill Clinton. However as soon as Arafat arrived in Gaza and descended from his plane, he rejected the agreement. The American explanation of Arafat's sudden change of heart was that some Arab leaders convinced him that he would not be able to ‘market’ what had been agreed [to the Palestinian people], and therefore, it would be better to reject the deal and announce an Intifada which would subsequently make him a leader, and that is indeed what Arafat did.There is an unusual amount of honesty here (give or take the erroneous date; the Arafat Intifadah did not start in 1998).
He goes on to say that
the United States will guarantee Israel's signature and actions whilst Egypt and Jordan will guarantee the Palestinian signature – which is to say guarantee that the Palestinians will not violate the principles of the agreement.
* He believes that if talks fail, the world will declare a Palestinian state, regardless, so it's in Israel's interest to make the talks succeed. But if this is the case, why would the Palestinians negotiate in good faith. Abbas will sit back and complain, throwing spanners in the works at every opportunity.
He closes by saying that the PA/Hamas division is really an Arab division, and also that Arab countries that oppose normalization talk and trade with Israel behind the scenes. "However, unfortunately, Israel today has relations with the majority of Arab states."
With this "unfortunately", as with some of his other comments, Fandy demonstrates ignorance of what makes Israel tick; Israel has always been much more ready to make concessions when approached by people who hold out their hand than it has when approached by people making threats. This error reflects the collective blind spot of most of the region's opinion shapers. It's always about threats, because the idea of making concessions in order to get what you want is anathema, and because the Arab world has never come to terms with the fact that destroying Israel is off the table. Anwar Sadat was wiser. He realized that Israeli leaders serve their people, and he realized from the moment he came to Jerusalem that in the end he would need to make sure that the Israeli people were ready to accept a deal. Three and a half decades later, the rest of the Arab world still doesn't get it.