When last month's American sponsored Israeli-Palestinian negotiations began, the dreams of the sane world for a peaceful resolution to the conflict in the Holy Land were rekindled once more. It may have been a slim hope-- optimistically naive at best, dangerously unrealistic at worst-- but the chance for peace was there, as it always seems to be at these negotiations. And as per usual, these hopes appear to have been quite thoroughly dashed to bits by the extremely diplomatic and obviously well-intentioned actions of Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister.
The stated purpose of this most recent round of peace talks is to clearly define the borders of Israel in the context of a newly-created Palestinian state and as has been the purpose of numerous prior negotiations. The current stumbling block for the whole peace process is that the 10-month moratorium on the creation of new settlements in the West Bank (the justice of which has been called into question by watchdog groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International) has not been extended to also cover the negotiations period. Seeing as one of the major issues at this conference is Israel's expansionist tendencies within the West Bank, many have begun to suspect that the Israeli governing body may not be taking these talks seriously.
In response to this, Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, has, in what can only be described as a superhuman display of restraint, only threatened to leave the American sponsored talks unless the moratorium is reinstated. In spite of this however, Netanyahu is still appealing to the Palestinians not to leave the negotiating table as if the outcome has not already been decided.
The Palestinians have everything to lose and nothing to gain through these talks, just as the Israelis can only hope to benefit regardless of the outcome. If the Palestinians remain in spite of the continued expansion of Israeli settlements they give legitimacy to the state of Israel and its actions, in effect legitimizing their own displacement. If they leave the talks clearly weighted against them from the onset, Israel will be able to argue that the Palestinian Authority is clearly unwilling to discuss terms like "reasonable" people. Netanyahu may claim to the international community that he was forced into the settlement expansion because his fragile political alliance would break up otherwise. The Palestinian leadership is thus caught between two hard decisions. On the one hand, if they go along with negotiations hoping for the best, they will lack negotiating power down the road. On the other hand, if they refuse to negotiate they risk the entire process falling apart for another long period. In many ways the Palestinians are better off with this stretch of negotiations. They dare not conceed too much this early, though.
The United States' continued unconditional support of the Israeli regime prevents any meaningful change from ever occurring in the region. So long as America is the sole arbiter of legitimacy and justice, Israel will continue to flout international law and treat negotiations as irreverently as they currently do. The governing bodies of the international community will continue to turn a blind eye to the illegal persecution of the Palestinian people, people who have been continuously and systematically driven from their homes for the past 60 years.
Israel doesn't want peace, that much is clear. Israel wants to drive the Palestinians entirely out of their own land by any means necessary, whether through the facade of legal negotiations or violent military expulsion. Israeli history has shown the peace talks to be nothing more than empty and impotent photo ops, where the militarily superior Israel demands more and more of the already destitute Palestinians while giving less in return. Unless major changes are made in Israel's policies regarding Palestine, peace seems a distant dream in the Middle East.