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Analysts: It Will Be Difficult to Restart Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process


Aides to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas say he will use his visit to the White House next month to call on the United States to step up the pressure on Israel to accept a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Mr. Abbas will travel to Washington at the invitation of President Barack Obama, who this week called on Israelis and Palestinians to take real steps toward restarting the peace process. Analysts say that finding a basis to restart negotiations will be difficult.

The two sides are farther apart than they have been in a long time. The hawkish administration of new Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has refused to declare support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Palestinians have refused to restart negotiations since Israel launched its 22-day attack on militants in the Gaza Strip last December. They say that in order for them to return to the table, Israel must first accept the notion of Palestinian statehood and stop the expansion of Jewish settlements on lands Palestinians claim as their own.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat says the Palestinians value President Obama's initiative to move the peace process along. He says the Palestinians want concrete action. Erekat adds that no new initiatives are necessary. He says peace initiatives have already been tabled and that all of them call for an end to the Israeli occupation.

The United States has invited Mahmoud Abbas for a meeting with President Obama next month. Palestinian officials say Mr. Abbas wants the United States to persuade Israel to accept a two-state solution.

Washington is a proponent of two states. U.S. special envoy George Mitchell, on a recent visit to the region, said such a plan is "the only solution" to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

But analysts say there are enormous complications.

Israel insists that the Palestinians recognize it as a Jewish State. The Palestinians have refused to do so, fearing that they would give up the right of return of perhaps hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees - and their descendants - to lands that were seized when Israel was established in 1948.

Israeli historian Benny Morris has written extensively on the Palestinian refugee problem. He says many Israelis - including the country's current leadership - believe accepting a two-state solution on the terms the Palestinians propose would mean that Israel would eventually be overrun by Arabs.

"These two things combined - the rejection of Israel as a Jewish state and a mass return of refugees to the Jewish state, of Arab refugees - would annul the two-state settlement immediately or down the road, even if it was agreed," said Benny Morris.

Palestinians dismiss the Israelis' concerns.

Adnan Abdel Razek, a writer and analyst in East Jerusalem, says Palestinian negotiators have already recognized Israel as a Jewish state, albeit in principle only.

"This is an attempt to switch the issues," said Adnan Abdel Razek. "This is an attempt to send the ball back to the Palestinian playground. If you look at the Oslo agreements, read it. The Oslo agreement says the PLO [are] representatives of the Palestinian people, the government of Israel recognizing each other. What more do they need?"

Palestinian officials say Mr. Abbas' meeting with President Obama in Washington is set for May 28.

U.S. officials have also invited Mr. Netanyahu to the United States in the coming weeks.

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