Is compromise too dear for Mideast peace?http://news.xinhuanet.com/
JERUSALEM, Sept. 16 (Xinhua) -- U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas were serious about reaching an agreement, but analysts noted the same core issues continued to obstruct any real progress.
As the three leaders prepared to meet at Netanyahu's official residence in Jerusalem, the Israeli premier said "there was a lot of work to be done, but he was glad to have the opportunity."
Following a meeting with Israeli President Shimon Peres, Clinton said that Netanyahu and Abbas had started to "grapple with the core issues that can only be solved in face to face negotiations."
While the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama is hoping for a breakthrough during the new round of talks, local pundits said those key problems required the kind of compromise neither leader was able to make.
The future status of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, the establishment of permanent borders, security, and whether descendants of Palestinian refugees could move to the state of Israel were part and parcel of any final peace agreement.
Palestinians, who want East Jerusalem as the capital of the state they hope to establish in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, say the existence of settlements, built on land they want for a state, denies them a viable and contiguous country.
On Sept. 26, Israel's self-imposed 10-month freeze on new construction in the West Bank expires.
Netanyahu enforced the building freeze in the Jewish communities scattered around the West Bank to promote the recommencement of peace talks.
Abbas has threatened to walk out of the talks if Israel does not extend the moratorium.
Some analysts said, however, that the issue of Israeli settlements did not pertain to current negotiations.
"The future of Israeli settlements is a subject of permanent status negotiations and therefore does not have to be addressed at this point in time as a precondition for negotiations," Dore Gold, President of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, told Xinhua.
"In order to extend the moratorium the Palestinians have to demonstrate their willingness to compromise on important issues, such as identity, refugee claims, the status of Jerusalem, and security," said Gerald Steinberg, Political Studies Department chair at Bar Ilan University.
Mitchell has also said the U.S. would think it best for the moratorium to continue, but it expects quid pro quo from Abbas, perhaps by officially recognizing Israel as the state of the Jewish people, to make extending the moratorium politically easier for Netanyahu.
Palestinian leaders staunchly refuse to recognize Israel as a Jewish state because about 20 percent of its citizens are Arabs, and the Palestinians claim the right of refugees and their descendants to return to their homes in Israel.
"I don't think that Abbas is required to give gestures. The road map on the Palestinian side is to fulfill their responsibilities on the security level and they did," said Ghassan Khatib, director of the Government Media Center.
Israeli officials warned ahead of the talks that an "all or nothing" strategy of insisting on a total freeze on West Bank construction could risk paralyzing negotiations altogether. For nine months of the construction freeze, there were no negotiations, they noted.
But some analysts said Abbas did not really have the freedom to compromise as he lacked support both domestically as well as in the region and faced fierce opposition from Hamas, which took over Gaza in a bloody confrontation with Fatah in 2006.
According to official Palestinian figures, most of the Arab countries did not fulfil their pledges to provide the Palestinians with financial aid, and those countries that did donate significantly lowered their donations. Whereas Saudi Arabia gave the Palestinian Authority 240 million U.S. dollars in 2009, they only donated 30 million dollars during the first 8 months of the year.
Of the 530 million dollars received since the beginning of the year, Arab donors only contributed 22 percent. The rest came from Western countries and organizations, including the United States.
"It is important to emphasize that the Arab League plays a critical part in the peace process," said Steinberg. "Not just Abbas but also Israel and the Americans have noted that despite the language of the Arab peace initiative they haven't shown any actual support of the process."
"The Arab League also has the influence of Syria and Lybia and is subject to their rejection, and the Saudis have been invisible in this process thereby slowing it down," Steinberg added.
The Palestinian Authority has expressed concern over its financial situation in the absence of the funds that were pledged, noting that it has some 150,000 employees, including civil servants and members of the security forces, half of which live in the Gaza Strip.
Hamas politburo chief Khaled Meshal has called the U.S.-backed direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority illegitimate, saying that Palestinians across the globe would not support any movement holding meaningless talks with Israel.
Calling the negotiations the latest in a long list of Israeli crimes against the Palestinian people, Ismail Haniyeh, prime minister of Hamas, recently praised the steadfastness of the Palestinian people in the face of Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip, saying the Palestinians were a "model for the Arab nations and Islamic countries."
But all did not share Haniyeh's enthusiasm.
"On the whole the feeling on the ground is pessimistic," Khatib said.
"The Palestinian public don't base their opinion on political statements by any political officials, be they Palestinian, American or Israeli.""They want to see the reality on the ground. When they see anything change practically, like for example a stop to the expansion of the settlements, they will seem optimistic," Khatib added. "The question is whether they will make process of the kind that could make change on the ground and at this point it doesn't seem that way."