Live chat with Richard Boudreaux

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

2007-12-12 11:03:32.0 Administrator2: Welcome to the Mideast Chat! We're here with Times Jerusalem Bureau Chief Richard Boudreaux; feel free to submit your questions or comments for Richard now.

2007-12-12 11:03:38.0 Administrator2: Welcome, Richard!

2007-12-12 11:04:25.0 Richard Boudreaux: Glad to be here.

2007-12-12 11:07:08.0 Administrator2: Richard, how do you feel today's session went? And do you feel they are a good or bad omen for the Mideast peace process?

2007-12-12 11:09:43.0 Richard Boudreaux: The meeting today was tense. The Palestinians used it to denounce Israel over a construction project in East Jerusalem. The Israelis complained about continuing rocket fire from the Gaza Strip. The session underscored the difficulties that stand in the way of any serious discussion of the core issues of the decades-old conflict -- refugees, borders, the status of Jerusalem. The two sides didn't even begin to talk about those issues today. They're still debating procedural issues.

2007-12-12 11:10:51.0 Richard Boudreaux: My Jerusalem bureau colleague Ken Ellingwood covered today's talks in Jerusalem, and you can find his story at, on the home page.

2007-12-12 11:11:52.0 Administrator2: Welcome to our live chat on the Mideast peace talks. Jerusalem Bureau Chief Richard Boudreaux is with us. Please feel free to submit questions.

2007-12-12 11:14:25.0 Administrator2: What is it about this construction project that got the Palestinians so upset?

2007-12-12 11:16:41.0 Richard Boudreaux: Israel plans to build 300 new homes in a neighborhood it calls Har Homa. Israel seized the Har Homa neighborhood during the 1967 Middle East war and then annexited it. Palestinian negotiators say the construction plans violate Israel's commitment to freeze settlement activity under a 2003 U.S. peace initiative known as the Road Map. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said last week that the building plans would not help the new effort to achieve a peace accord.

2007-12-12 11:17:28.0 Saladin al-Kurdi: How can anyone not see that a "Jewish State" placed in a land that has been populated by non-Jews for centuries is anything other than a racist abomination?

2007-12-12 11:21:14.0 Richard Boudreaux: A lot of Israelis would disagree. They believe the biblical land of Israel was given to them by God. This strong religious conviction is one factor that makes the Israeli-Palestinian conflict so difficult to resolve. Whatever the Israelis believe, there have been Arabs, Palestinians, living on that land for centuries. And to be fair, a lot of Israelis recognize that these religious beliefs, held by Jewish settlers, should not get in the way of a settlement to divide the land so that two states can live side by side in peace.

2007-12-12 11:24:03.0 Administrator2: The two sides have set a goal to reach an agreement by the end of next year. What is your bet over whether or not they will succeed?

2007-12-12 11:27:27.0 Richard Boudreaux: I wouldn't bet on an agreement by then. The leaders of the two sides, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas have a rough idea of the hard compromises that will be necessary. But neither of them appears to be politically strong enough to get their people to go along. Olmert is weak because right-wingers in his governing coalition threaten to walk out at the first sign of any concessions and could bring down his government. Abbas is weak because he controls only the West Bank branch of his would-be state. Hamas, the militant group that controls the Gaza Strip, opposes a peace deal with Israel. It is easy to imagine how Hamas, with a single suicide bombing, could undermine the peace process if it appears to be succeeding. ...

2007-12-12 11:28:53.0 Richard Boudreaux: Seven years ago, the two sides almost reached an agreement at Camp David. They have learned some lessons from that and have achieved a lot just by getting back to the bargaining table. But things are a lot more complicated today because of the rise of Hamas in the years since Camp David.

2007-12-12 11:30:26.0 Saladin al-Kurdi: Is'nt Abbas a quisling who is expected to sign away the Palstinian refugees' right to return? Do you realize that even if he does this that those refugees will still have that right, and they will be justified in attempting to acheive it by military means as righteous Palestinian fighters do today?

2007-12-12 11:33:00.0 Administrator2: Welcome to our live chat on the Mideast peace talks. Jerusalem Bureau Chief Richard Boudreaux is with us. Please feel free to submit questions.

2007-12-12 11:36:30.0 Richard Boudreaux: Good question. The right of return is the toughest issue for Abbas. And you're correct about the expectation that he will give up the right of return in the negotiations. Palestinian officials have said privately that he might be willing to do that in exchange for Israeli concessions that would give a new Palestinian state control of eastern Jerusalem and a capital there. Abbas and the Bush administration hope that the Arab countries invited to the Annapolis peace conference last month will stand behind Abbas as he negotiates and will accept a compromise solution on refugees. Such a solution might involve financial compensation and a right of return for a limited number of Palestinians to be reunited with their families. But you make a good point in predicting that Palestinians would continue fighting for the right of return. Abbas is in a tough position, because he will have a hard time enforcing any agreement -- that is, preventing armed opposition to it.

2007-12-12 11:37:25.0 dawn: Why is it so hard to bring all the parties to the table?

2007-12-12 11:41:36.0 Richard Boudreaux: As of today, there are two parties at the table -- Israel and the West Bank leadership of the Palestinian Authority. There are two parties who are not at the table. Hamas opposes a permanent peace deal with Israel and has called the current talks a waste of time. The Bush administration is not at the table either, although some diplomats involved in previous negotiations believe it should be -- as President Clinton was involved at Camp David seven years ago. President Bush has been reluctant to get deeply involved as a broker.

2007-12-12 11:42:11.0 Saladin al-Kurdi: Why is the one state Bi-national solution so anathema to the Times? Didn't earlier Zionists like Martin Buber advocate it?

2007-12-12 11:43:49.0 Administrator2: Saladin, could you be more specific in your reference to The Times?

2007-12-12 11:46:01.0 Richard Boudreaux: More on Dawn's question: The failure of the Camp David talks in 2000 led to an armed Palestinian uprising that hardened attitudes of peoples on both sides to the idea of peace talks. It took so many years to bring them back to the bargaining table because there was no trust between their leaders. But Olmert and Abbas have met more than a dozen times over the past year and built a trusting personal relationship.

2007-12-12 11:46:45.0 Administrator2: What could the Bush administration do to ensure results by the end of Bush's term?

2007-12-12 11:47:58.0 Saladin al-Kurdi: You printed an editorial recently that stated that the one state solution is no solution at all. Another editorial "Get Real Hamas" called upon the Palestinians to give up fighting for the right of return.

2007-12-12 11:48:57.0 Richard Boudreaux: Bush could spell out hiw own ideas for what would be a fair peace agreement or set himself up as a broker. Many involved in past negotiations believe the Israelis and Palestinians need a broker. They are going to have to make painful compromises. It's much easier for them to go to their domestic critics and say, "Look, this is not exactly the deal I wanted, but the president of the United States is asking me to accept it."

2007-12-12 11:50:06.0 Administrator2: Thank you, Saladin. Richard can't speak to the newspaper's editorials since they are separate from the paper's news coverage.

2007-12-12 11:51:26.0 Richard Boudreaux: Also, the Bush administration could set precise standards for what the Israelis should do on stopping settlement expansion and what the Palestinians should do on halting armed attacks against Israelis. This would help the two sides resolve disputes over the steps they're supposed to be taking to ease tensions on the ground and make it easier to negotiate the difficult issues.

2007-12-12 11:53:44.0 Administrator2: After today's difficult peace talks, what is the next step?

2007-12-12 11:55:44.0 dawn: What do you think the US could do to encourage the Israelies and Palestinians to really make positive changes? Nothing seems to have worked so far.

2007-12-12 11:56:10.0 Richard Boudreaux: The two negotiating teams agreed to meet again after the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha late this month. They expect to meet frequently after that, but have not announced a schedule. Olmert and Abbas did agree, however, to meet every two weeks to review their teams' progress. There will be pressure to show some progress before President Bush visits the region a month from now.

2007-12-12 12:01:43.0 Richard Boudreaux: About Dawn's question. The Bush administration could learn from the breakdown of its 2003 initiative known as the Road Map. It failed because it required the two sides to take some difficult steps before they could ever sit down and start negotiating a final peace deal. The Israelis were supposed to stop expanding Jewish settlements. The Palestinians were supposed to start reining in militant groups that target Israelis. They didn't get very far because each side refused to take the first step. The U.S. official who was tasked at the time to monitor each side's progress was not allowed to make his observations public, because the Bush administration didn't want to put public pressure on Israel to halt settlement growth. To encourage the two sides to make positive changes, the administration could change that policy, set some standards and publicize its reports on compliance or lack of compliance. Secretary Rice's criticism of the Israeli construction project last week is a sign that the administration is willing to be more active.

2007-12-12 12:02:12.0 Saladin al-Kurdi: Painful compromises on both sides? Israeli's are asked to stop the building of settlements and the annexation of land, both of which are illegal under international law, while Palestinians refugees are asked to give up the right to return to their homes which is recognized by international law. To stop breaking the law vs. denying the rights of millions under the law. Isn't framing the process as one entailing comparably painful compromises a canard?

2007-12-12 12:06:06.0 Richard Boudreaux: Your arguments about what's legal and what's not legal are perfectly valid. Yet the steps the two sides must make are painful nonetheless. And when I say "painful" I mean politically risky. We have to recognize that stopping Israeli settlements, even though they are widely regarded as illegal under international law, is a step that could bring down and Israeli leader and make peace impossible.

2007-12-12 12:06:15.0 Administrator2: Richard, thank you very much for joining us, and thanks to everyone who contributed. A complete transcript of today's chat will be available this afternoon at

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