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Analysts: Peace Talks Not Expected Soon No Matter Who Wins Israeli Election


Israeli surveys indicate the newly formed centrist Kadima party is likely to come out the overall winner of Tuesday's elections. But, no matter who wins the vote, substantive peace efforts are not likely any time soon - not with a Hamas-led Palestinian government on the other side.

Just days before Israel's election, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called for direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, the PLO, insisting a peace deal could be reached within a year.

Few on either side seem to share that optimism.

The militant group Hamas - set to form a new government after winning Palestinian elections in January - advocates Israel's destruction, refuses to recognize previous peace deals and refuses to negotiate with the Jewish state.

Yossi Alpher is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, and he's co-editor of the on-line publication "bitterlemons," which advocates Israeli-Palestinian dialogue. Alpher tells VOA, substantive peace efforts are not likely in the near future.

"From the Israeli standpoint, Hamas's election triumph, coming in the midst of the Israeli election campaign, served to reinforce the sense that is pervasive among a considerable majority of Israelis - [that] is that, we really don't have a partner for a viable peace agreement on the Palestinian side," said Yossi Alpher.

The head of the PLO mission in Washington, Ambassador Afif Safieh, says Israel has repeatedly used the excuse of having no peace partner to confiscate more Palestinian land for its security barrier and its settlements throughout the West Bank.

He says Hamas should be given a chance to moderate its position.

"I believe Hamas - if ever Israel is serious about withdrawal from the occupied territories, allowing the birth of a Palestinian state - I personally believe Hamas will be ready to join the Arab peace initiative of 2002, which is going to be revitalized and re-launched at the end of this month at the Arab summit meeting in Khartoum, Sudan," said Afif Safieh.

The original Arab peace plan was proposed by Saudi Arabia at the Arab League summit in Beirut in 2002, and, basically, offered to make peace with Israel, in return for Israel's withdrawal from all Arab land it captured and occupied after the 1967 Middle East war. The proposal went nowhere at the time, but it was mostly incorporated into the internationally backed Road Map peace plan, which also remains stalled.

Israeli analyst Yossi Alpher describes the view that Hamas will become more moderate, as "wishful thinking." Alpher says Hamas might change some of its political positions, but he says, as part of a broader pan-Arab Islamist movement, it is not likely to change its ideology.

"Hamas is the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood," he said. "This is the first time the Muslim Brotherhood is taking office to run an Arab country. So, I think the likelihood that Hamas will actually, at some point, say, 'yes, we're prepared to negotiate, to recognize Israel's right to exist' - on this land, which according to every Islamist is sacred Islamic land - I think the likelihood that is going to happen is extremely low."

Alpher says this does not mean the situation will necessarily deteriorate. He says the next several years could result in restrained co-existence, whereby Hamas focuses on internal issues, and keeps a lid on violence, and Israel goes ahead with unilateral moves to disengage, giving up a number of West Bank settlements and, at the same time, completing its security barrier.

He acknowledges those moves will never result in real peace, but he says they also do not preclude a resumption of real negotiations in the future.

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