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Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Israelis and Palestinians Agree: Talks Doomed to Fail

AOL NEWS August 25, 2010

Matthew Kalman

Matthew Kalman Contributor

AOL News
JERUSALEM (Aug. 25) -- The announcement that direct peace talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders will begin in Washington on Sept. 2 has produced a rare convergence of views between Israelis and Palestinians of all political hues: They agree the talks are doomed to fail.

Nahum Barnea, veteran diplomatic commentator for Israel's largest daily, Yedioth Ahronoth, wrote that Israelis "have learned to distinguish between the festive ceremonies on the White House lawn and life's reality here," while among Palestinians "skepticism prevails to the degree of disbelief or lack of interest."

"It's a good thing to talk," he continued, "but it's highly doubtful whether the talks will lead to something."

Peace talks Israel Palistine
Bernat Armangue, AP
Even before peace talks with the Palestinians begin, Israel's government is fiercely debating a key concession: whether to extend a slowdown of West Bank settlement construction, such as this new housing development in east Jerusalem.

He said that many words had been exchanged between Israelis and Palestinians in the 17 years since the Oslo accords. "In between the words there were many dead and wounded and no peace agreement. ... We were in that scenario time and time again. It's hard to believe that this round will have a happy ending."

Israeli left-winger Yossi Beilin, a key player in the Oslo accords and the main author of a draft peace deal dubbed the Geneva Initiative, calls President Barack Obama's insistence on holding the talks now "reckless" and "irresponsible."

Both sides recall June 2000, when President Bill Clinton strong-armed the Palestinians to attend the doomed Camp David talks, the breakdown of which contributed directly to the outbreak of the second intifada a few weeks later.

"The negotiating parties are clearly not ready," Beilin says. "There is not a chance in the world that in a year -- or two or three -- peace can be achieved. The gap between the sides is too big. I don't understand the American administration, which is trying to summon both parties to the negotiating table under the false impression that they already share the same premise for negotiations. America is trying to trick both parties into thinking that the Palestinians want direct talks, and that [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu will freeze settlement activity."

On the right, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told Israel Radio on Wednesday that people should "lower expectations and get real."

"This is another event, just as we have seen many festive events from Madrid until Annapolis, innumerable events," said Lieberman, referring to international peace conferences held from 1991 to 2007.

"There's no magic recipe ... that can bring us within a year to a permanent agreement resulting in the end of the conflict and the solution of all of the complicated issues, such as refugees, Jerusalem and Jewish settlement," said Lieberman, leader of Netanyahu's major coalition partner.

Even within Netanyahu's own Likud Party, there is widespread doubt that the gulf between the two sides can be bridged, or whether Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas can deliver anything, since he has lost control of the Gaza Strip and its 1.5 million inhabitants to the rejectionist Hamas movement.

For more than a year, following the lead of Obama, Palestinian leaders have insisted on a full settlement freeze as a precondition to direct talks. A 10-month freeze on new West Bank settlement construction, which the Palestinians say has not been fully observed, is due to expire on Sept 26. Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat warned that a resumption of settlement construction will torpedo the talks, but it is hard to see how Netanyahu will be able to hold his right-wing coalition together if he agrees to continue the freeze.

"These upcoming negotiations promise to be another futile display of diplomacy," Naftali Bennett, director of the Yesha Council of West Bank settlers, tells AOL News.

"We won't accept any freeze, not for one day on one inch of land in Israel. Jews have the inherent and natural right to build anywhere, anytime on the land of Israel. If we are not given the legal right to actually build homes for our families and children, we cannot allow a situation where this coalition will continue to govern," Bennett warns.

Palestinian commentators and politicians are just as skeptical. Joharah Baker, a commentator for MIFTAH, a moderate Palestinian think-tank, calls the talks "a tragic road to nowhere" embarked upon solely because of pressure from Washington.

"President Abbas' West Bank government has been under excruciating U.S. pressure for months to transition from proximity talks and enter direct talks with Israel," she says. "At one point even Abbas admitted that, 'Never in my life have I experienced such pressure.' And while the United States has repeatedly denied it, media reports have speculated more than once that the U.S. would 'punish' the Palestinians by holding back funds for not agreeing to direct talks."

Sam Bahour, a Palestinian businessman and management consultant who relocated from Ohio to Ramallah to help develop the Palestinian economy, warns that without significant Israeli concessions, the Washington meeting is liable to herald "another round of empty talk from politicians."

Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal told reporters at a Ramadan dinner in Damascus that the return to direct negotiations with Israel was "nationally illegitimate, carried out by force and American summons." He said the PLO Executive Committee's decision to endorse the talks was "an echo of Washington's orders" and said most of the 11 parties making up the PLO opposed the talks.

Indeed, Abbas' mandate is thin, at best. Only nine of the 18 members of the PLO Executive Committee attended the meeting last week that approved the talks with Israel. Under the PLO's own constitution, the minimum for a quorum is 12.

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine condemned Abbas' decision, and the Palestinian People's Party says the talks will be "a fiasco."

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