News / Middle East

    US Looking to Bolster Israeli-Palestinian Talks at UN

    US Looking to Bolster Israeli-Palestinian Talks at UNi
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    September 22, 2013 9:30 PM
    At this week's meeting of the U.N. General Assembly, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will be pushing efforts to back ongoing peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, the talks are based on a two-state solution to the conflict.
    At this week's meeting of the U.N. General Assembly, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will be pushing efforts to back ongoing peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians.  The talks are based on a two-state solution to the conflict.

    Nothing has taken more of Kerry's time as secretary of state than Middle East peace.  So these talks have been front and center in the run-up to his first U.N. General Assembly.

    "I am talking to both leaders directly and everybody, I think, understands the goal that we are working for.  It is two states living side by side in peace and in security," he said.

    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says it is time.

    "We both know that this road is not an easy one, but we have embarked this effort with you in order to succeed to bring about a historic reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians that ends the conflict once and for all," he said.

    Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas says Palestinians are ready.

    "We have a period of nine months during which we hope to be able to reach to a peace agreement between us and the Israelis," he said.

    Obstacles include the status of Jerusalem as an Israeli and Palestinian capital and the borders of a two-state solution.

    The same issues that have largely blocked progress on a negotiated settlement since the Oslo Accords 20 years ago.  So what has changed?  Broader Israeli concerns about the future, says former U.S. ambassador Adam Ereli.

    "Whether or not you have the territory, whether or not you have provided for your security, the fact of the matter is it does not serve Israel's long-term interest to be an occupying power," he said.

    Israel has issued new work permits for Palestinians from the West Bank as part of economic measures aimed at supporting the peace talks.  But that is offset by new Israeli settlements, says Oxfam's Alun McDonald.

    "There are a lot of reasons to feel positive, but itis very hard to be optimistic when over the past few weeks there have been more announcements of settlements, there have been more demolitions of homes, and the occupation still continues," he said.

    Settlements are a particularly difficult issue for Israel's coalition government, says Cato Institute analyst Doug Bandow. 

    "The internal political dynamic is a very complicated one.  It is hard to give those up.  There is very little trust on both sides, so there is a lot of skepticism out there," he said.

    Bandow says putting a peace deal to Israeli voters is especially perilous for a coalition government confronting divisive social issues of welfare benefits and military service for Orthodox Jews.

    "This really has to look good, it really has to look salable before Netanyahu is going to take ownership. He's got a lot else on his plate," he said.

    Former Israeli negotiator Uri Savir says the momentum of the Oslo Accords is not entirely lost.

    "Peace processes take time.  It is a difficult transition.  But the foundations are still alive.  And a two-state solution will still be achieved, I have no doubt," he said.

    Kerry says time is the enemy of a peace process because it allows a vacuum to be filled by people who do not want things to happen.

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