Arab uprisings hit Israeli-Palestinian peace process

Palestinian women wave flags in protest Women in Gaza City held a small rally to voice frustration over the lack of progress towards peace.

While a wave of change is sweeping much of the Middle East, the peace process between the Israelis and the Palestinians remains deadlocked. The BBC's Bethany Bell considers whether the Arab uprisings will help or hurt the chances for peace.

Israelis and Palestinians are so often the focus of events in this region, but now many people are wondering about their place in a changing Middle East.

In the West Bank town of Ramallah, Lina, a student, looked around at the crowds shopping in Manara Square and shrugged her shoulders.

"Other nations are seeking their own freedoms," she said. "But they are forgetting the Palestinian issue.

"We suffer from many things here but until now nobody has made any kind of a revolution in Palestine. Although we are the people that most need a revolution."

On the other side of the square, Farah, a teacher, told me that Palestinians have a different problem from other Arabs: the Israeli occupation.

"We are looking about how we can change our life," he said. "We are looking to end the occupation."

'Ripple effect'

There have been Palestinian demonstrations, but they are small compared to those elsewhere.

So does Arab liberation stop when it comes to the Palestinians?

Lina in Ramallah Many young Palestinians, like Lina in Ramallah, believe that they too need a revolution.

I put the question to Sabri Saidam from President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah movement. He believes the revolutions in the Arab world are having "a ripple effect" on the Palestinian streets.

"People are absorbing what's happening, learning the lessons, yet the emphasis among the youth who are most affected is on ending the Israeli occupation," he said.

But it is not just the occupation. Palestinians are deeply divided - geographically and politically. Fatah runs the West Bank, and the Islamist group Hamas controls Gaza.

Taher al-Nunu from Hamas says the Arab uprisings mean the time has come to heal that rift. "We and Fatah are going to rebuild relations between each other," he said.

"We are going to change this bad situation, the division between us and them. This is the first important thing after the changes in the Arab world."

Security concerns

But a new Middle East does not necessarily mean a new Israel. It remains deeply concerned about Hamas - and it is worried about the rise of other Islamist parties in the region.

Israel's Deputy Foreign Minister, Danny Ayalon, says the Arab uprisings are not about the Palestinians.

"It is certainly in Israel's interest to solve the conflict with the Palestinians and we have made a lot of concessions, we will continue to make a lot of concessions - but you need two for that," he said.

"The one thing that Israel cannot allow is that we will solve the problem at the expense of our security and our future. We have been waiting for the Palestinians for the last two years to come to the negotiating table - we are still waiting."

Israel's Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is under considerable international pressure to move forward on peace. But it is not clear if he will put forward enough to bring the Palestinians back to the table.

Obstacles to peace

The construction of Jewish settlements - a key Palestinian concern - has resumed after a temporary 10-month freeze. Recently settlers clashed with Israeli police when they demolished part of a settlement outpost in the West Bank.

Israeli police move settler activists Israeli police clashed with settlers over the demolition of part of an illegal outpost near Nablus

The Israeli analyst, Efraim Inbar, says progress towards a peace deal is unlikely.

"Domestically there is no pressure whatsoever because most Israelis believe that peace is not around the corner and there is no real Palestinian partner. The situation is different on the international level. There is, in my view, a misguided impression that progress can be made."

In a leafy suburb of West Jerusalem, local resident Shira waited outside the premises of her daughter's play-group. She says the upheaval in the Arab world makes her anxious.

"We need to pay attention to what's going on."

She told me it is important for Israel to find a way to "keep talking to the Arab world" and to keep believing that "maybe peace [will come] one day."

When there are problems in the Middle East, she said, "it is a little bit stressful for Israel".

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