CAIRO: After a two-year hiatus, direct negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis are set to kick off next month in Washington, but wariness prevails regarding the intentions of the Israeli Prime Minister and Hamas.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had extended the invitation to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu to resume direct negotiations in Washington Sept. 2, stating, “Without a doubt, we will hit more obstacles,” but hoping to reach a settlement within a year.
“The enemies of peace will keep trying to defeat us and to derail these talks,” she added.
President Hosni Mubarak and King Abdallah of Jordan were also invited to attend the talks. The day before US President Barack Obama will hold separate talks with Abbas, Netanyahu and the Egyptian and Jordanian leaders.
“There has been good preparation for these talks, with a timeline in place, a moratorium on settlements and the presence of Arab leaders to give it Arab backing. There is also a better US administration in place which is following the path of Bill Clinton,” Emad Gad from Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies told Daily News Egypt.
“The question is whether Netanyahu will be ready to accept these conditions and not continue settlement expansion,” he added, “Personally, I don’t think he is ready.”
In the Gaza Strip, Hamas decided to postpone its own unity talks with Fatah because of the decision to resume talks without a guarantee for a freeze on existing Israeli settlement expansion, which was the requirement for the PA to resume direct calls.
Former Egyptian Ambassador to Israel Mohamed Bassiouny told Daily News Egypt, “It is Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority that have been mandated with carrying out the peace talks. If an agreement is reached within the year as is hoped then it will be put to a referendum to the Palestinian people, so the Hamas issue is solved.”
Hamas felt that the PA had caved into American pressure to attend the talks without this stipulation being in place. Clinton had stated that there would be no preconditions to the talks, a move which was welcomed by Netanyahu’s office.
Hamas Prime Minister in Gaza Ismail Haniyeh said on Sunday that the talks would fail, as it would not restore Palestinian rights. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri called it “a new attempt to exert trickery against the Palestinian people.”
Gad said, “As long as Hamas know that Netanyahu is looking for a way out they might help to pressure this situation, possibly by launching a rocket attack which Israel would retaliate to.”
The Arab League released a statement Sunday in which it initially welcomed the resumption of direct talks but expressed concern about the Israeli “explanation for the basis of negotiations” which might lead to the talks not reaching their goal.
The statement also expressed concern about the fear that the new round of talks would yet again be “an empty cycle of negotiations” that would not bear fruit.
Direct talks had been discontinued two years ago after the Israeli attack on the Gaza Strip in 2008. Ever since, US Middle East envoy George Mitchell has been meeting both sides in what were termed “proximity” talks.
The objective of the direct talks is to tackle the final status issues of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that include the fate of Jerusalem, continued Israeli settlement expansion and the right of return of Palestinian refugees expelled in 1948.
Bassiouny said, “We don’t want to judge the talks before they start, everybody is saying Netanyahu won’t be cooperative but we mustn’t get ahead of ourselves. Let’s attend and see what happens. The US and the Quartet are proposing a two-state solution within a year, so we are obliged to follow through on this.”