It is no surprise to find the latest round of Middle-East peace talks somewhat be-calmed. Static around whether or not Israel will extend its moratorium on building new settlements misses the point. The progress in the discussions does not depend on whether or not (as it did last Friday) Israel announces the building of new homes in Jerusalem.

There are two issues which effectively mean that negotiations have yet to begin. The first is that, as in any negotiation, one of the critical factors is that both parties actually want to do a deal. That does not seem to be characterize either Israel or the Palestinian approach. Both parties seem currently to prefer being in a state of undeclared war to the possibility of living in a state of peace. So, unless and until that state changes the negotiation can’t really get going. Peace only came to Northern Ireland after the stakeholders all arrived at the same time at the conclusion that they would prefer peace to conflict. It took many years to arrive at that point and it may yet take Israel and the Palestinians some time to get there. Until they do, negotiations about the “content” of any deal are somewhat irrelevant. So questions like what will happen to existing settlements or exactly what recognition of statehood each side will give to the other are a bit of a red herring.

The second issue is that for a negotiation to really get going all the major stakeholders need to be represented. Unless that happens it’s all too easy for the parties not involved to reject the deal. Hamas are not present and it’s easy to understand why their presence is undesirable for the Israelis, as Hamas has adopted an extreme position on Israel’s very existence and has expressed no wish to negotiate. However, whatever one thinks of Hamas’ position and tactics, a deal will not get closed without their involvement, any more than a deal could have happened in Northern Ireland without the involvement of the IRA through Sinn Fein.

So, all the parties with a stake need to want peace and be involved in the process before negotiations will get anywhere. Time should be spent creating the necessary motivation for peace on both sides rather than trying to broker the content of a deal. It would be wonderful if the present round of talks could achieve a break-through, but don’t hold your breath.