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 latimes.com, 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.