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Israelis, Palestinians Hold Little Hope for Direct Talks


Both Israelis and Palestinians are doubtful that upcoming U.S.-mediated direct talks will yield any results or even make progress toward ending the six-decade-old conflict in the Middle East.

Mustafa Murar owns a paint shop in the West Bank town of El Bireh, near Jerusalem. It is on the way to a Jewish settlement, on a road where horrific fighting took place in the Palestinian uprising 10 years ago. The fighting devastated his business.

He says he lost business every day, and it has been only recently that this area opened and business started again. He says he is talking about losses for seven years.

In the past three years of relative calm, the Israeli-occupied West Bank has experienced an economic boom. Murar has been able to restock his shelves and get his business going again.

He says negotiations in 2000 that neither side was ready for sparked the last uprising. He thinks neither side is ready now.

He says negotiations and an agreement, if they are based on real efforts for peace, will be a good thing. But, he says, going by the Palestinians' experience with the Israelis, he believes these negotiations will be fruitless.

Right timing?

Many Israelis also believe the time is not right. After decades of conflict, some like this West Jerusalem resident speaking near the Jaffa Gate of the Old City say there is not enough common ground for meaningful dialogue.

He says he thinks the negotiations are not going to succeed. He says the dispute is not a one-shot affair, and time - he says - must pass. He says Israelis and Palestinians have to get used to one another.

The conflict is decades-old, and both sides appear as far apart as they have ever been on the key issues of Jerusalem, refugees, borders, and Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Israel says it wants security guarantees, a demilitarized Palestinian state, and an undivided Jerusalem under its control. Israel also wants Palestinians to recognize it as a Jewish State. Many Israelis oppose pulling hundreds of thousands of Jewish settlers out of the West Bank - a demand on which the Palestinians say they will not compromise.

Analyst Mahdi Abdul Hadi with East Jerusalem's Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs says U.S. pressure - and not a feeling of readiness - is bringing both sides to the table again.

"For the last 20 years, since Madrid up until today, 19 years, we reached nothing and nowhere in negotiations with the Israelis," he said. "On the contrary, we are losing the land, and we are becoming more divided, and [having] a crisis of leadership, a crisis of vision, and we are living a de-facto apartheid system under Israeli occupation. Now, Washington comes to invite? No, they did not invite. They summoned."

Potential for renewed violence

Palestinian leaders have cautioned against a return to violence.

But the head of the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies, Yaacov Bar-Simantov, says the potential for renewed violence exists. "Of course there will be people who say that if we shall not succeed with the political game, with the diplomatic process, let us try again the violence. And because one of the difficult outcomes of a failure is to turn back to the violence," he said.

West Bank business owner Mustafa Murar says he, like everyone else, does not want war.

He says his work would end. He says the economic situation is linked to politics. If the political situation is good, he says the economic situation is good, and the other way around.

But Murar, like other West Bank Palestinians, is afraid that if the talks fail frustration over the occupation could once again boil over and destroy what he has worked to rebuild.

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