News Analysis: Are Netanyahu-Abbas-Obama convening for photo-op?

13:26, September 02, 2010      

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by Gur Salomon, Huang Heng

The formal dining room at the White House was set by the U.S. President Barack Obama on Wednesday to host Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

When the meal is over and the table cleared, Netanyahu and Abbas will start working. Both leaders are slated to meet U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday for a joint announcement on the official launching of the direct peace negotiations.

The talks will then be moved to the Middle East. The exact location of where they will be held has not yet been determined, whether in Cairo, Ramallah or Jerusalem.

Moreover, the more important and real question now is whether the renewal of direct talks, following an 18-month lull, stand a chance to succeed and lead the sides to a much desirable peace agreement. The overwhelming majority of Israeli pundits, academics and analysts do not hang much hope in that.

RELUCTANT TRIP?

Analysts believed Netanyahu and Abbas themselves reluctantly boarded their flights to Washington to heed the invitation by Obama, and both leaders knew that the gaps in their needs and demands situate the chance of success at near zero.

"The problem is that the contour lines of a peace agreement that each side drew are almost like parallel lines that will never meet," wrote the daily Yedioth Aharonot political analyst Shimon Shiefer on Tuesday.

Shiefer said it seemed highly unlikely that Netanyahu and Abbas, just like all Israeli and Palestinian leaders who preceded them, will be able to reach an agreement on the core issues of the conflict:

A Palestinian state based on the pre-1967 with East Jerusalem as its capital; allowing hundreds of thousands of descendants of Palestinian refugees to return and live in Israel; Israeli demands for uncompromising security measures; and evacuating tens of thousands of Jewish settlers from their homes in the West Bank for the future Palestinian state.

"Netanyahu is going to Washington for a photograph," wrote Yediot Aharonot leading political commentator Nahum Barnea, "He is not different than Barack Obama, Mahmoud Abbas, Hosni Mubarak and King Abdullah. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict produced many ceremonies since September 1973. Next week's ceremony is unique in the sense that this time both sides are arriving feeling the same: both don't believe that something will come out of it."

CRUSHING PRESSURE

With their political survival under domestic threat and enjoying a relative security calm in the West Bank, neither Netanyahu nor Abbas were much keen on making the painful concessions necessary to reach a peace deal, Israeli analysts said, both leaders preferred the status quo while for Obama it was another thing.

"Obama believes that a peace agreement is a national American interest," wrote Barnea, "And when the U.S. President believes in that, the clients, Netanyahu and Abbas, have no choice but to show up. America is far from being what it used to be, but for Netanyahu, Mubarak, Abdullah and Abbas, she remains the only alternative."

Barnea noticed that Netanyahu and Abbas went to meet Obama at a time when the U.S. president's popularity at home was at an all- time low since he assumed office in 2008, but he suspected scoring points in the foreign policy arena could play an important part in Obama's success.

"No American president was ever rewarded at the ballot box for the efforts he invested in bringing peace to the Middle East," wrote Barnea, "Not Jimmy Carter, who brought about an Israeli- Egyptian peace agreement, and not Bill Clinton, who invested great efforts in mediating between Israel and Syria and the Palestinians. "

Despite their doubts and pessimistic forecasts, Israeli analysts also admitted that under pressure from Islamic fundamentalism Netanyahu and Abbas could look for more than just a photo opportunity on the White House lawn as they had joint interests to fight it.

SHARED INTERESTS

Netanyahu's ministers, Barnea recently said, were divided into three groups in their approach to the peace process.

"One group believes that we are in the midst of a historic process. Islamic fundamentalism is on the rise. Israel, Arab regimes in the region and the PLO are facing a common enemy which threatens their very existence," wrote Barnea on Aug. 22.

"If Israel and the Palestinians do not reach a peace agreement, Fatah will disappear and the Palestinian people will be ruled instead by Hamas. This is why time is of the essence for both sides." he added.

While Netanyahu's own hard-liners at home, who argued against any concession in the coming direct talks, are planning their actions, Abbas' opposition, Hamas, have already shown their objection to the peace talks with a deadly drive-by shooting ambush near the West Bank city of Hebron Tuesday evening, which claimed the lives of four Israeli settlers, among them a pregnant woman.

Hamas on Wednesday claimed responsibility for the attack.

Amost Harel, a military correspondent for the daily Ha'aretz, told to Xinhua on Wednesday that the Hamas had succeeded in embarrassing Abbas by carrying out an operation while the Palestinian leader is meeting with Obama.

The organization also wanted to signal that it still exists and can carry out deadly operations in the West Bank, he said, adding that even though it was yet unclear if Netanyahu and Abbas would return from Washington with optimistic news for their people, but if the peace process could continue past Washington, the chances that extremists would continue to try and derail it were high.

Israeli President Shimon Peres, a known peace optimist, said recently that cynicism and doubters had always been around.

"It never hurts," he said, "to keep hoping and dreaming."

Source: Xinhua

(Editor:燕勐)

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