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Scepticism reigns at relaunch of Middle East peace talks

Video by Kathryn STAPLEY

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2010-09-01

At the invitation of Barack Obama, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas are dining together in Washington Wednesday, before they resume challenging direct peace negotiations.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas are dining together Wednesday ahead of the latest round of  peace talks which have been greeted with widespread scepticism.
 
Their White House rendezvous will mark the beginning of a new initiative to restart peace talks after they were derailed by Israel launching the devastating Operation Cast Lead on the Gaza territory in December 2008.
 
"WE NEED A POLITICAL DECISION"
Under the auspices of the United States and the diplomatic Quartet, which includes Russia, the United Nations and the European Union, the Israeli and Palestinian leaders are scheduled to restart face-to-face talks at the State Department Thursday.
 
But a deadly shooting of four Israelis in the West Bank Tuesday - which Islamist movement Hamas have claimed responsibility for - and ongoing Israeli resistance to stopping settlement building threatened to curtail the peace initiative that Obama made a foreign policy priority early in his presidency.
 
According to Mohammed Dahlan, a member of the central committee of Abbas’ Fatah party, Netenyahu is not really interested in a final status treaty. “We have negotiated all the detail over the last 15 years… we don’t need more negotiations,” Dahlan told FRANCE 24. “We need a political decision for the issues of borders, Jerusalem and the refugees.”
 
Announcing the agreement to resume peace talks on August 21, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that all the parties involved shared “the goal of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security," and would work to “resolve all final status issues,” within a year. The outstanding issues refer to the fate of Palestinian refugees, borders and the status of Jerusalem.
 
Scepticism reigns
 
On the eve of the meeting, many analysts are sceptical of the chances of success. “To be honest, the reason to be pessimistic about the outcome of negotiations is justified,” wrote Abdel Monem Said, director of the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo, in the pan-Arab daily newspaper Al-Sharq Al-Awsat.

"I want everybody to be very clear, the United States is going to be unwavering in its support of Israel's security. And we are going to push back against these kinds of terrorist attacks. And so the message should go out to Hamas and everyone else who is taking credit for these heinous crimes that this is not going to stop us."

President Barack Obama, Washington, DC. September 1, 2010.

The fatal shooting in the West Bank
Tuesday served as a demoralising example of Said’s concerns.

“At the beginning of every peace initiative [Hamas] restarts the war,” says Middle East expert Frédéric Encel, a lecturer at France’s prestigious Sciences-Po University. “Its leaders know that they will not destroy Israel, but their objective is actually to break the Palestinian Authority, and replace it with a radical Islamic entity, as in Gaza.”
 
Other observers have also pointed to the many caveats the Israeli and Palestinian representatives announced before their trip to Washington.

On Sunday, Netanyahu reiterated the three conditions to any peace agreement with the Palestinians, insisting primarily on the need for Palestinian recognition of Israel as "the state of the Jewish people.”
 
Mahmoud Abbas for his part said Israel would be “fully responsible” for the failure of negotiations if the state continued building settlements in the disputed West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Partially frozen for nearly ten months, settlement activity could resume as early as September 26, when the current moratorium ends. The Council of Jewish settlements in the West Bank called for the immediate resumption of construction after the suspected Hamas attack.

However, Encel says he remains optimistic. “Today we have two pragmatic and rational leaderships,” Encel says, adding that, “Israeli and Palestinian public opinion, in survey after survey, shows a majority of people want peace with an independent state for the other party. That should not be ignored.”

In a more optimistic development, Israeli defence minister Ehud Barak, said in the daily newspaper Haaretz that Israel was ready to cede parts of Jerusalem in the context of a peace agreement and the creation of a Palestinian state.

Date created : 2010-09-01

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