Israel and Palestinians step closer to proximity peace talks
US Mideast envoy George Mitchell met with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu Wednesday and is to meet Friday with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Palestinians are skeptical of the indirect or 'proximity' peace talks, as they skirt key issues like borders and Jerusalem.
Israelis and Palestinians aren't talking to each other, but they are moving a step closer to the long-awaited proximity talks that finally began Wednesday as US Middle East peace envoy George Mitchell met with Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu. Mr. Mitchell is to meet Friday with Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, who is currently in Egypt.Skip to next paragraph
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Although this experiment in shuttle diplomacy has been months in the making, there were indications on Wednesday that Palestinians were not convinced they had received a satisfactory answer to the "guarantees" they had requested from Washington in the form of a promise that the Obama administration would somehow compel Israel to move forward. And, given the talks' limited scope, skepticism was riding particularly high.
"The American administration has not provided any guarantees for the Palestinian leadership," says Hatem Abdel-Qader, who heads the Jerusalem Affairs portfolio of the Fatah movement, the party headed by Mr. Abbas.
"The assurances that the Palestinian leadership talked about are oral statements that can be reneged on by the Israeli side any time it wishes to do so," he says. "These assurances do not include any frank position that Israel should be adhering to. It leaves Israel to act as always in a noncommittal fashion. Obama's letter to the Palestinians should have been more assertive and practical in its nature."
Palestinians: no discussion of most crucial issues
Mr. Abdel-Qader, who describes the current outlook for indirect talks as "a waste of time," says Palestinians worry that Israel stands to benefit from this formula because it avoids discussing the most crucial issues of borders, Jerusalem, and Palestinian refugees – instead focusing on issues like security and economics.
Moreover, it lacks a time frame or a deadline, which many Palestinians wanted because they fear agreeing to talks that will carry on indefinitely with little results, while settlements expand. "The Israelis want this to be an umbrella in order to continue their settlement project both in the West Bank and in Jerusalem," he says.