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Middle East

Little optimism for Palestinians on US talks

As Abbas holds talks in US, a nine-month deadline for a draft framework, set in July last year, is close to running out.
Last modified: 17 Mar 2014 17:38

It's been just one week since 20-year-old Saji Darwish was killed by the Israeli army in the occupied West Bank. They say he was throwing stones at Jewish settlers on a bypass road they had built.

It cut through the centre of the Darwish family's land – dividing it in two and making it almost useless.

According to Darwish's father,  young Saji was shot twice in the back of the head for throwing stones. His parents are in mourning over the loss of their youngest son, a journalism student who loved to ride horses. 

As I sat in the living room of the family home, Darwish's mother said she still can't believe her son was killed for his alleged "crime".

"I think they could have arrested him, put him on trial, anything but not kill him," Amal Darwish told me.

This is the ongoing killing and conflict that Palestinians say has tormented them for decades. It's a battle, however, the United States hopes can finally be resolved.

On Monday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas meets with President Barack Obama in Washington. It's expected a framework proposal will be unveiled that could lead to a final peace agreement.  

As Amal served traditional Arab coffee and dates, she told me she is not optimistic. "I don't think there's hope. It's still far from our reach - us Palestinians. They just talk and talk," she said.

Little has been said about the ongoing negotiations being led by US Secretary of State John Kerry. Still, leaks have emerged.

It's thought there is some consensus for a Palestinian state on the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip - territory occupied by Israel in 1967. 

Through land swaps Israel could keep most settlements. Palestinians would be compensated with equal land elsewhere. It's not what Palestinians want. Most want a sovereign state based on the 1967 borders with just minor land swaps.

Still, there are questions about whether Israel is bargaining in good faith. Complicating negotiations is the fact that Israel has continued building illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank. Roughly 10,000 new settlement units have been constructed since the peace talks began in July 2013.  

Contested Jerusalem

Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, also wants his country recognised as a Jewish state. Palestinians say they did recognise the right of Israel to exist in peace and security in 1993, in the Oslo Accord.

Jerusalem is another obstacle. Israelis object to sharing the Holy city occupied in 1967, then illegally annexed. Palestinians want East Jerusalem as a state capital.

Abdul Rahman Al-Haj Ibrahim, a professor at Ramallah's Birzeit University, told me: "All the world recognises the 4 June 1967 is the area, for a Palestinian state.

"You can't argue with anyone. It's the minimum that you can accept. With East Jerusalem as capital, so framework what? It's the minimum that we can accept with East Jerusalem as part of our own independent sovereign state."  

International law mandates compensation and a right of return of Palestinian refugees displaced in 1948. This is a sticking point for Israel.

Netanyahu is insisting Israel keep a military presence in the valley between Jordan and the West Bank. Abbas prefers NATO to take over any security. The differences seem insurmountable and now hopeless for Palestinians like Sayel Darwish, Saji's father.

"They have been negotiating for 20 years, since Saji was born. He was killed and to date thousands were killed and tens of thousands arrested during those years of talks," he told me.

Sayel is also angry with the US for its role in the negotiations. He says Palestinians are not dealing with an honest broker.

"The US that's brokering talks is also sponsoring the occupation. They can stop them [Israel]. To me, it seems Israel is controlling the White House," Sayel told me.  

There is little time left for peace making. The timeline for a draft framework has a nine-month deadline. That means differences created over decades, may have just a month left to resolve.