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Direct talks ... let the countdown begin

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armed-groupsBy Ayman Mohyeldin

Spend as much time in the Middle East following the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as I have over the years and you begin to notice a sad pattern.

The two-state solution based on the Israeli-Palestinian equation of 'land for peace' has brought neither land nor peace but violence.

Now that the direct talks between Israelis and Palestinians have begun, so too, many are afraid, has something else: the countdown to the next round of violence in the region.

God forbid it happens. Those of us who live in this part of the world know how much of a human toll this conflict has taken on the people of the region.

But there is a truth that must be said, and while most in the media, particularly the Western media, have failed to mention it, the reality of the violence that follows the failure of such talks always looms present.

Could it be because the logic behind the framework for peace is not just and inherently flawed?

In 1993, after the Oslo Accords were signed, a new era of peace was supposed to grip the region. Instead, Israel expanded its settlements, confiscating more Palestinian land while a wave of Palestinian attacks was launched deep inside Israel.

Round after round of talks between the sides through the 1990s only brought more violence on both sides and more Israeli settlements.

And still the US and the international community were determined to push through the 'land for peace' doctrine for ending the conflict.

In 2000, the Camp David summit was aimed at ending this conflict for once and for all and once again it failed for all.

That failure gave birth to the second Intifada, or Palestinian uprising, and with it came unprecedented Israeli military operations against a largely unmilitarised civilian population and waves of Palestinian suicide attacks against Israeli civilians.

Israel barricaded Palestinian cities and besieged its towns eating up yet more land in the name of its security.

Arab states offered up the Arab Peace initiative at the Beirut Summit in 2002 offering Israel full peace with the Arab world in exchange for land. Israel rejected and violence continued.

Like Obama's current push for peace which envisions agreements on core issues within a year, it was President Bush's 2003 Road Map, which envisioned a Palestinian state by 2005, that became the references for talks.

The Road Map took the sides down the path of conflict. And so too began Israel's policy of targeted assassinations, air strikes and more Palestinian attacks.

Walls were erected around the West Bank. Palestinian rocket fire from Gaza become the new weapon of choice for military factions.

When the US gave its blessings to an Israeli unilateral withdrawal from Gaza disguised as a painful concession for peace, it didn't take long for violence to break out. A year later the Israel-Hezbollah war broke out in 2006.

Nonetheless, the parties were dragged back to the table at Annapolis, this time to launch bi-weekly meetings.

Those talks lasted about one year until Israel launched Operation Cast Lead (its war on Gaza) which pretty much cast doubt about any intentions it had about making peace.

And so here we are once again ... Palestinians and Israelis dragged to the US for yet another round of talks.

The leaders may have changed, the venues too, but the formula of 'land for peace' still serves as the bedrock principle for the talks.

Perhaps too much emphasis is constantly put on process rather than the ingredients for peace. One thing that years of this same process has shown is that 'land for peace' has failed because Israel refuses to concede land and has opted to manage the conflict.

The Palestinians, on the other hand, don't have the tools in their hands to either manage the conflict or prevent the usurpation of their land.

In areas where it couldn't control the violence ie Gaza and South Lebanon, Israel opted to abandoned the land even without a formal peace.

That message today resonates louder for factions who advocate violence. Make the conflict costly for Israel and it will give up land regardless of whether peace is even a factor.

Many wonder why, if Israel genuinely believed in the 'land for peace' equation, would it build settlements on more Palestinian land that it will knowingly give up?

The answer, they argue, is that Israel does not intend on giving up the land, but rather manage the conflict.

The sad reality is that it's not optimism that fills the air of Jerusalem, but tension.

Everyone knows what happens when talks fail, and given that these talks failed to incorporate the much needed paradigm shift in changing the formula of solving this conflict most expect they will.

Oh, by the way, did I mention that four Israeli settlers were killed on the eve of the direct talks while Israel says it will resume construction on illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank on Sept 27?

Ayman Mohyeldin reports from Gaza, where he covered Israel's war on the strip earlier this year.


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