Leading article: Inch by inch in the Middle East

Share
Related Topics

It would be wonderful if the optimism shown by the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, after his talks this week with the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, was to prove justified. And it is certainly true that the message being put out by Mr Netanyahu in his tour of European capitals is, on the whole, a positive one. Apart from the specific exception of Jerusalem, the new Israeli coalition government does seem prepared to call some form of halt to settlement expansion on the West Bank as a concession to get peace talks going with the Palestinians.

This is what the Palestinians have been demanding as the first essential step before they can resume direct talks, and it is what President Obama has been pressing on the Israelis. The hope is that by offering this, in however a limited way, the Israelis will make possible direct talks with the Palestinian Authority next month, when Washington may unveil its ideas for a comprehensive peace settlement.

The emphasis should be on the hope rather than the expectation, however. A temporary cessation of new settlement building may be the essential precondition of talks, but it is not a decisive step towards peace in itself. Even on the settlements there is still concern at just how far the Israelis are prepared to go in changing the facts on the ground. Netanyahu and his Cabinet have made absolutely clear that any restriction does not apply to Jerusalem, which they regard as the historic capital of the Israeli nation whatever the claims of the Palestinians. The Israeli Prime Minister has also tried to draw a distinction between settlement expansion as such, by which he means increasing the land under Jewish habitation in the occupied West Bank, and the building of additional homes within the settlements, which he terms "natural growth".

Neither point goes down well with the Palestinians, who seek a capital in East Jerusalem and an actual reversal of settlement building. Go beyond this issue into the thorny questions of the return of refugees, the future of Gaza, and the definition of borders and you have two sides who are as apart as ever, if not further.

US pressure may be enough to get talks going, which is good. But it won't be enough to bring the parties to some kind of mutual understanding, let alone agreement. On that, Middle East opinion remains sceptical, and with reason.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Solutions Consultant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: As a Solutions Consultant for this Professiona...

Recruitment Genius: HR Consultant

£30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A small family run HR consultancy based ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisors

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This winner of the best new business in Shrops...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This winner of the best new business in shrops...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

If I were Prime Minister: I'd make sure half of Parliament was female, and have a zero tolerance approach to sexual harassment

Gill Slocombe
The seven leaders of Britain's main political parties took part in the general election live debate (AFP)  

General Election 2015: The idea that one party can represent all that we believe in just doesn’t apply any more

Armando Iannucci
Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders