At approximately 10:25 am today, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton officially opened the first direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians in two years. In a ceremony at the State Department, Clinton reiterated that the Obama administration is committed to reaching a settlement within one year. The commencement followed a gathering at the White House last night, where U.S. President Barack Obama, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas all expressed their determination to reach a peace agreement.
For the Palestinian and Israeli leaders, re-starting peace talks presents a huge risk: President Bill Clinton’s failed attempt in 2000 led to the second Palestinian intifada, and President George W. Bush’s Annapolis peace attempt dissolved amid continued rocket fire from Gaza into Israel and, subsequently, Operation Cast Lead.
Unfortunately, the anti-peace, anti-Israel terrorist organization that rules the Gaza Strip, Hamas, has already acted out violently as the two sides landed in Washington to begin talks this week, shattering years of relative calm in the West Bank. On Tuesday evening, Hamas militants killed four Israelis in cold blood after they opened-fire on a car driving near Hebron. And the following evening, Hamas claimed responsibility for another drive-by shooting that left two Israelis injured, one in critical condition.
While it is too soon to determine whether or not the negotiations will continue for one year as the Obama administration hopes, let alone reach a peace agreement, one thing is for certain: Hamas will do its best to cause trouble. This, in turn, highlights an important fact about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that Washington has largely ignored thus far: the Palestinian leadership is divided. With Hamas in control of the Gaza Strip vowing to never recognize or negotiate with Israel, and the Palestinian Authority in control of the West Bank easing its way back in to negotiations today, creating a lasting peace agreement between the Palestinian and Israeli people may be more difficult in 2010 than ever before. Indeed, to quote Prime Minister Netanyahu, “This will not be easy.”
Nevertheless, this is not to say that an Israeli-Palestinian peace is unattainable. An agreement can be achieved with strong and determined leadership willing to do what it takes to reach their common goal. But are the respective populations prepared to make the necessary sacrifices for a peace agreement to succeed?