“To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war,” Winston Churchill supposedly said — and that is perhaps as much as can be said about the resumption of peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians. Most experts have little confidence that the talks can produce the kind of far-reaching agreements that have eluded the region now for decades.
Both sides are said to be more concerned about relations with Washington than about relations with their next-door neighbor. The Palestinians appear unwilling to budge on deal-breakers like the “right of return.” Mahmoud Abbas barely speaks for the PLO, let alone for Hamas. “If the Palestinians can’t make peace with each other,” asks analyst Doug Bloomfield, “how are they to make peace with Israel?”
Prime Minister Netanyahu has endorsed Palestinian statehood — the first Likud leader to do so — but will have a hard time convincing his coalition or party when it comes to making major concessions. Public opinion polls suggest a majority of Israelis would vote for a referendum if that’s what it would take to reach an agreement; at the same time, a relatively stable status quo may seem preferable to a risky new security arrangement.
Indeed, the obstacles to peace are as high and wide as they ever were, and the reasons for pessimism are legion. And yet, Israel has often faced difficult odds, and prevailed. The case for a two-state solution also remains as compelling as ever, while the thought of a binational state, de facto or de jure, frightens hawks and doves alike.
For these reasons, then, it is appropriate to put skepticism aside and hope for a breakthrough that will give both sides the confidence to reach an agreement or agreements. Perhaps it won’t be a comprehensive peace, but a series of confidence-building steps that increase cooperation and further isolate Hamas.
At this point, it’s too early to talk about optimism. But it is never too late to talk about hope.