So school started (again)

Netanyahu and Abbas agreed to continue to meet on a regular basis to see how they can frame the discussion to attempt to reach an agreement in one year...If it sounds like a long phrase with lots of ifs, it is because that is what it is. The next round (no pugilistic pun intended) will be in Sharm El Sheikh, where Clinton and Mitchell will try to continue their role of cajoling both leaders into talking.

When we were all expecting the beginning of this periodic ritual, I went on the internet to read what the Israeli and Palestinian streets were saying. What I read was not exactly encouraging...Al Quds published a few articles explaining why the negotiations were doomed to fail due to American biases and the intransigence of the Israelis. The Jerusalem Post and HaAretz reported on how difficult is going to be for Netanyahu to extend the slowdown in settlement construction beyond September 30 if he wishes to keep his coalition from crumbling. The White House released the commentaries by the different leaders about the conversations, and Abbas' comments were not encouraging either, focusing as he did on blaming the Israelis for any future failure should they not freeze settlement activity.

I'm still asking myself the same questions I was asking myself last week, and that is "What is the point of this exercise in futility?". What I see now happening (and I hope I'm wrong) is the following:

1) Netanyahu will face an almost impossible task in trying to get his coalition to agree on an extension of the settlement building slowdown, but if he doesn't manage it, Abbas will walk out of the negotiations and blame him, puting Israel again in a bad diplomatic situation.

2) Hamas will step up its terrorist activities to make it as nearly impossible as possible for Abbas to show any flexibility whatsoever. And they do have an interesting case, since Abbas can hardly claim to be speaking for the people of Gaza...

3) The Palestinian people in the West Bank is likely to radicalize and oppose any agreement that doesn't include complete settlement freeze, and on top of that they will demand fast results, something neither leader can deliver.

4) The Israeli people will demand assurances from the US regarding security and probably regarding the Iranian situation.

In short, nothing has changed other than the photo op in the White House - yet another failure could mean that the next effort to achieve an agreement might have to wait until the next generation...

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