ARAB WORLD: Opinions grim about new peace talks

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When Middle East peace talks began this month in Washington, there were glimmers of optimism and excitement over the renewed discourse between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, which hadn’t engaged in direct talks in almost two years.

But since then, Arab opinion makers have spoken. And the outlook is grim.

Between the likely resumption of Jewish settlement expansion, a lack of popular Palestinian approval for peace talks and the looming possibility of an Israeli strike on Iran, most in the region believe that all the hope and fanfare surrounding the round of talks will be in vain.

Jamal Majdalawi, a leader in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, voiced his pessimism about the talks in a Sept. 2 article in the United Arab Emirates-based Gulf News.


‘The direct negotiations between the Israeli government and the Palestinian authority won’t work; the Israelis have not given any indications that they will. These negotiations are a way for the Israelis to stall, so they can continue building the settlements, until eventually we find ourselves living on small pieces of land, totally controlled by the occupation and with our dreams of an independent Palestinian state shattered.’

A central issue that threatens to pull the rug out from under the talks is the possible extension of the 10-month halt on settlement expansion in the West Bank. The moratorium expires Sept. 26, and most believe that Israel will choose not to extend it and to continue with construction, which may deal a finishing blow to the peace talks. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has made it clear that he will withdraw from talks if settlement expansion continues, reports Arab News in Saudi Arabia.

Furthermore, the legitimacy of the peace talks is being called into question. Many believe that Abbas was coerced into peace talks from which he has nothing to gain. On Sept. 4, in another UAE paper, The National, Racha Markem described why the talks will not produce favorable results for the Palestinians.

“Mr. Abbas adopted a clear strategy of never saying “no” to America to avoid being accused of sabotaging the peace process. [Netanyahu] therefore has nothing to lose by agreeing to enter into talks. America knows this well and [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu is assured of it. For that reason, they pressure Mr. Abbas knowing that he will acquiesce to all their dictates.”

The next round of talks is scheduled to take place on Sept. 14 at the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el Sheik, attended by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Khaled Amayreh, writing for the Egyptian Weekly Al-Ahram from the West Bank, described another common view of the talks among Arabs, pointing to Israeli intentions as an explanation for the widespread skepticism in the days before the negotiations resume.

“Israel insists that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Undoubtedly, this is an explosive demand that can be interpreted as an undeclared Israeli intention to deport or ethnically cleanse its large Palestinian minority that constitutes nearly one-quarter of Israel’s overall population. In light of these and other facts, a fleeting look at the talks in Washington shows a terrain littered with landmines. … No wonder the pessimist’s view is prevailing.”

-- Patrick Gallagher in Beirut boy watches construction of a structure in the West Bank settlement of Beit Hagai, a show of defiance against a partial government freeze on Jewish settlement building. Credit: Baz Ratner / Reuters