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News Analysis: Doubts persist over U.S. ability to broker Mideast peace deal

By Matthew Rusling (Xinhua)

15:42, April 10, 2013

WASHINGTON, April 8 (Xinhua) -- U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Israel Monday amid doubts over Washington's ability to broker a peace deal in the volatile region.

This followed President Barack Obama's March visit and is Kerry's third trip to the region in two weeks, marking an effort to build a foundation for further peace discussions and end a more than four-year-old stalemate in negotiations.

But while both sides want peace, few Palestinians or Israelis are optimistic about their peace prospects, with only 18 percent of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, 22 percent West Bank Palestinians, 28 percent Jewish Israelis and 35 percent non-Jewish Israelis believing peace is possible, according to a Gallup poll released last month.

"The chances that the Obama administration can achieve genuine progress toward an Israeli-Palestinian settlement are practically nil," Wayne White, former deputy director of the State Department's Middle East Intelligence Office, told Xinhua.

Expanded Israeli settlements, a vast network of security and settlement access roads and the separation wall have prompted many to question the two-state solution.

"Nonetheless, as with the Bush administration before it, Obama and company will seek to generate some measure of activity that would at least suggest that some progress is being made to quiet critics in the West and the greater Arab world," White argued.

He said a serious obstacle to real progress is the recent orientation of the two sides, adding that despite the losses of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud Party in the recent Knesset (parliament) elections, the Israeli government remains essentially opposed to the kind of concessions that would make a two-state solution a reality.

Meanwhile, Palestinians remain in disarray, he said, arguing that ever since the Palestinian elections in 2006, a deep schism has existed between Hamas in the Gaza Strip and a much weakened Fatah-dominated Palestinian National Authority in the West Bank.

And even the more moderate Fatah has been gradually weakened by Hamas gains in the West Bank, driven by Palestinians' anger and despair over the failed peace process and continuing Israeli encroachment, White said.

"So, on one side is a party opposed to making the critical concessions needed to draw perhaps even the Palestinian Authority into serious negotiations, and on the other side is a house divided," he said.

On a brighter note, polls show that both sides still want peace, despite negative feelings over the possibility of peace.

Gallup found that non-Jewish Israelis expressed the highest level of support for the peace process, at 89 percent, followed by 72 percent support among Palestinians living in the West Bank, 70 percent among Jewish Israelis, and 62 percent among Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip.

Strong support for peace among non-Jewish people living in Israel, who are primarily Arabic speaking and of Palestinian origin, stems perhaps from "the more integrated nature of their lives, working and living in close proximity to Jewish Israelis," Gallup said in last month's report.

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