News / Middle East

Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations Continue Despite Many Challenges

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas might not agree on much entering negotiations, but analysts said they have something in common.  Both are in precarious political situations.

Newspaper columns in Israel and the Palestinian territories have placed little hope that these negotiations will accomplish what decades of attempts at peace have failed to do.  Others have expressed optimism that the talks have at least made it into a second day.

The skepticism is fueled by the perception that both leaders are negotiating from weak positions.

Both leaders pressured by partners

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is under pressure from his right-wing coalition partners, who want no concessions on Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.  Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has exceeded his term in office and does not represent the Gaza Strip - home to more than one million Palestinians.

Analyst Rami Nasrallah, head of the International Peace and Cooperation Center in Jerusalem, says Mr. Abbas cannot afford to back down on his threats to quit the talks if Israel does not extend a partial freeze on settlement construction that expires on September 26.

"The main concern of President Abbas is that the Palestinian state, in terms of physical reality, contiguity, will not be possible if this settlement expansion will continue," said Nasrallah.  "That's why he is scared that this negotiation is going to fail, because the direct meaning of the failure of the negotiations is that he will lose his legitimacy."

Need for coexistence amid territorial dispute

Israelis and Palestinians differ on whether there should be a Palestinian state or whether Israel should remove West Bank settlements.  Most people on both sides agree, though, that there is a need for peace and coexistence.

One Palestinian resident of the West Bank city of Hebron, a frequent flashpoint for tensions between Arabs and Jews, lives across the barbed wire fence of the Kiryat Arba Jewish settlement.  He said he remembers better times.  He said there was a time when he and settlers of Kiryat Arba got along well.  But, he said, that when bloodshed began between Israelis and Palestinians, relations deteriorated.

A Jewish resident of the nearby Beit Haggai settlement said she wishes for a return of the days when both groups shopped in each other's stores and lived without fear.  

"I'd like to be able to, just as when I drive in my rock-proof car, so that I'm not going to have my head smashed by a rock, and I see the Arabs walking on the side of the road without fear," said the interviewed Jewish resident of the Beit Haggai settlement.  "I'd like to be able to do that also.  I'd like to be able to live in a peaceful area without being scared of being shot or stoned to death."

Proactive U.S. role lauded

Analyst Rami Nasrallah said he will be surprised if leaders of the two sides reach any kind of deal.  He said that for the Palestinians, an agreement will be meaningful only if it gives them self-determination.

"Today it's more important to have collective rights, national rights, rather than have interaction.  Maybe later on, when there will be a comprehensive peace between the two sides, it will be much, much more easy to interact between the two communities with a much more equal basis - but not under occupation, between the one who eats the hummus in [Arab] East Jerusalem and the one who will buy some Israeli products in some of the [Israeli] shopping malls," said Nasrallah.

Despite what he deemed as political weaknesses in both the Palestinian and Israeli leaderships, Nasrallah said there is room for optimism thanks to the proactive role the United States is taking.

He said the success of the peace process might depend on U.S. efforts to prod both sides toward an agreement.

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