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US Envoy to Push Goal of Two-State Solution in Visit to Israel


U.S. Special Envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, is scheduled to visit the Middle East starting on Monday. It will be his first visit to Israel since nationalist Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took office. Mr. Netanyahu has refused to declare support for the creation of an independent Palestinian State and a top official in his government has said the peace process is at a dead end. Mitchell will see whether Israel is interested in restarting negotiations.

Taysir Dwayat, 55, says that for him, the peace process has been dead for a long time.

Once upon a time there was a house here:

He stands above a heap of shattered concrete and twisted metal on a windswept hillside in Arab East Jerusalem. It is the site of what used to be his son's home before Israeli forces came here early one morning this week and demolished it.

Taysir Dwayat is the father of Hussam Dwayat, a Palestinian construction worker who was shot dead last July when he went on a rampage with a bulldozer, killing three Israelis in Jewish West Jerusalem.

He tells VOA he believes the Israelis have punished his son and used him as an example to deter others from harming Israelis. He said he believes the Israeli's real intent is to not let any Palestinians remain on this land.

Is there any hope?

Anger over the demolition highlights the hopelessness that many Arabs feel about the future of the peace process. Prospects for peace hinge largely on the key issue of whether the two sides can agree on the status of Jerusalem. Both claim Jerusalem as their capital.

Whether that peace process can continue under Israel's new administration remains a question.

Thus far, statements made by Israel's new leaders do not indicate any willingness to negotiate or make concessions. The new prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has called for conciliation with the Arabs, but stopped short of declaring support for a two-state solution. Furthermore, Mr. Netanyahu has said he supports the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank - a source of enormous tension between Israelis and Palestinians.

Is the peace process really dead?

The new foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, recently said the peace process is at "a dead end." The last round of talks, opened by the United States in Annapolis, ended inconclusively last year. Lieberman said Israel is not bound to abide by the terms of the 2007 Annapolis Declaration, in which Israel and the Palestinians agreed to pursue the goal of two states.

Such statements are triggering concern in Washington. President Barack Obama this week reaffirmed U.S. support for a two-state solution, countering the Netanyahu government's position. On Monday, the U.S. envoy, George Mitchell, arrives in the region. The State Department says the purpose of his trip is to advance the goal of the two-state solution and comprehensive peace in the region.

The U.S. president's affirmation of the need for two states was welcomed by the Palestinians. Nabil Abu Rudeineh, the official spokesman and advisor to President Mahmoud Abbas, however, said Palestinian leaders want Mr. Obama to step up the pressure on Israel.

"The first step [is], he should persuade the Israelis to stop their settlement activities," Abu Rudeineh said. "This is the starting point. Unless there is an end, a real cessation from these activities, it will be difficult for any Palestinian negotiator to come back to the table. What we are looking for is a real commitment from the Israeli government that they are committed to a two-state solution and to the cessation of settlements."

Some analysts are warning of dire consequences for both Israelis and Palestinians if Mr. Netanyahu's government does not relent and start working toward a two-state solution.

Ron Pundak, director of Israel's Peres Center for Peace, was among the Israeli officials who negotiated the 1993 Oslo accords that opened the way for eventual Palestinian statehood. He says delaying or not giving the Palestinians a sovereign state will only lead to more violence.

"The situation currently on the ground is quite dangerous," Pundak said. "I'm afraid that if this government will not understand, and that new Prime Minister Netanyahu will not understand that the two states is the only solution, that we might go into a very turbulent situation."

Mr. Netanyahu's base of support is among Israelis who fear that an independent Palestinian state might fall to radical Islamist rule and threaten the Jewish State - much like has happened in the Gaza Strip.

The prevailing belief is that deterrent measures will lead to security for Israelis.

Back in East Jerusalem, Taysir Dwayat gazes at the rubble that only hours earlier, was his late son's home.

Could house demolition achieve security for Israel?

Israel's policy is to demolish the homes of 'terrorists' in the hopes of deterring others from carrying out attacks. But Dwayat, struck with grief and anger, says the destruction of his son's home has sparked not fear, but rage in him. He says he has no faith in new U.S. efforts for peace.

He says that to him, jihad is the only alternative left for him and his family. He said he and his family are willing to become martyrs for the sake of a Palestinian-controlled Jerusalem and its Muslim holy sites.

On the day of the demolition, further violence broke out.

Israeli police shot and killed a Palestinian man who they say had tried to drive his car into them, an action they have labeled a terrorist attack. Scores of Palestinian youths pelted Israeli forces with rocks in protest.

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