Israeli-Palestinian Summit Concludes with Little Progress
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JEFFREY BROWN: The three-way talks got under way this morning at Jerusalem’s David Citadel Hotel. After a brief picture-taking session, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sat down with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
This was supposed to be the first attempt in some six years to restart talks on the so-called final status issues, the ones that have been hardest to resolve: the future of Jerusalem, the borders of a Palestinian state, and the rights of Palestinian refugees.
But with so much uncertainty in the air after recent events, it was clear, even as the talks got under way, that expectations had been dramatically lowered.
Fighting in recent months between Palestinian factions representing Fatah and Hamas, which won last year’s election, left more than 100 dead. A deal to stop the fighting and form a unity government was reached earlier this month in Mecca.
For Palestinians, that raised new hopes of speaking with one voice. For Israelis and the U.S., it caused new concerns, as the unity government announcement said nothing about recognizing Israel or renouncing violence.
On Ben Yehuda Street, a busy pedestrian promenade just a few blocks from the meetings and the site of several suicide bombs only a few years ago, the main news of the day was the latest corruption scandal in the police force. The Israelis we talked to were certainly aware that Secretary Rice was nearby, but they held little hope for renewed movement toward peace.
Gali Agnon volunteers for a community service program.
GALI AGNON, Volunteer: The big people from the top, like the politicians, are making the situation very, very hard on everyone's lives. So everyone thinks that the other people are guilty and it's their fault. And because of them, there will not be peace. But if only one person will ask someone, "How do you think we'll make peace?" And they will say, "From the heart and from each other."
JEFFREY BROWN: Menachem Gottlieb moved to Jerusalem from Florida 27 years ago. He said he feared any move towards a peace that leaves Israel less secure.
MENACHEM GOTTLIEB, Israeli Resident: What the world considers progress in the peace talks is not what I consider progress. The PLO is really no different than the Hamas. Today, they joined together. They're both terrorist organizations; they both want the destruction of the Jewish people and the destruction of the state of Israel.
An 'almost tragic situation'
JEFFREY BROWN: In a park near Israel's Knesset, or parliament, we met with Ari Shavit, a columnist for Ha'aretz, one of Israel's leading newspapers. He's writing a book explaining modern-day Israel to the outside world. And we asked him to explain to us how he sees the current situation.
ARI SHAVIT, Ha'aretz: I think it's a very sad, almost tragic situation, because basically you have two exhausted people very much engulfed with the trouble of their own societies.
I think that what you have here is two boxers, if you wish, who are fighting each other so much for a decade now, to the point that both are beaten and exhausted, and they lean one against the other without really being able to move forward.
JEFFREY BROWN: In the days leading up to these talks, Secretary Rice said that she wanted to, quote, "probe the diplomatic horizon." Now, what would those words mean in the current context?
ARI SHAVIT: I think that the commitment and the attempt of statesmen and stateswomen, people like Secretary Rice and others, to try and do something, to try to bring some sort of hope, I think that's admirable and should be appreciated.
But one has to realize that the talk, the discourse, the talk of a two-state solution in coming years, the idea that it is possible to establish a Palestinian state and possibly have an overall peace agreement within a few years, all that is really, totally detached from reality.
So there is wisdom in trying to inject optimism into this grim reality. But I fear that, if you inject expectations that are not real, you might find yourself in deeper trouble later.
JEFFREY BROWN: Across the city, in mostly Arabic East Jerusalem, the streets were also busy. There have been demonstrations of late over Israeli renovations to a walkway that Muslims see as a threat to holy Islamic shrines in the old city of Jerusalem.
Asked about today's talks, Mageda Khader, a grade-school principal, spoke of living in uncertain times.
MAGEDA KHADER, Principal (through translator): Speaking as a Palestinian, I think the picture is very bleak, uncertain. We cannot see the sun coming out. There is no hope, just like the skies today are gray. It's not just for one reason. It's Israel; it's our government; it's several reasons working against our hope.
JEFFREY BROWN: Naim Tarazi, owner of a travel agency, spoke more in anger, saying that Secretary Rice and the Bush administration side only with Israel.
NAIM TARAZI, Travel Agency Owner: This is not the first time she is here, and nothing has happened. Promises, promises, promises, nothing has happened yet. Decision after decision after decision, nothing has happened. Everything is for Israel.
JEFFREY BROWN: Everything is for Israel?
NAIM TARAZI: Yes.
JEFFREY BROWN: You think that's why nothing happens?
NAIM TARAZI: Yes. Because, you see, if you come and take my land, and you take my house, and you want me to be friendly with somebody who is in my house and in my land, how can I be friendly?
New unity government
JEFFREY BROWN: The anger also comes because many Palestinians believe the new unity government is a step forward, giving Israel and the West a government it can deal with, according to Khader Khader, a Palestinian journalist with the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center.
KHADER KHADER, Jerusalem Media and Communication Center: We feel that this has strengthened the government and Abbas, in the sense that both now have the same political program, the minimum program of the 1967 borders Palestinian-state solution.
JEFFREY BROWN: The word that I kept hearing in the recent days was "uncertainty," that there's too much uncertainty in the air on both sides.
KHADER KHADER: Personally speaking, I think this is a term they use to camouflage their evasion from any commitment to the peace process.
I mean, everything is clear. This time, in particular, everything is clear. In the past, when you used to say, "Things are uncertain," they used to say, "No, everything is clear. We have no peace partner."
Now, when everything on the Palestinian side is clear, regarding how to move forward in the peace process, Israel and America, they are talking about uncertainty. And this is, of course, this is not a surprise to me.
JEFFREY BROWN: After two hours of talks, Secretary Rice emerged alone, putting the best face on things.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE, U.S. Secretary of State: All three of us affirmed our commitment to a two-state solution, agreed that a Palestinian state cannot be borne of violence and terror, and reiterated our acceptance of previous agreements and obligations, including the road map.
JEFFREY BROWN: I asked the two journalists where that leaves things.
ARI SHAVIT: I do have hope, but there is much work to be done. It's a long, long way. And anyone who is lazy or spoiled and not willing to get into the mud, and deal with the harshness of reality, and try to just real hope might find themselves producing false hopes.
KHADER KHADER: We are like in the suspicious or dangerous calm or silence, you know, calmness that we have before a storm. If things remain without any political horizon, without this diplomatic horizon that Secretary Rice was talking about, we will return to the cycle of violence that we have seen many times.
JEFFREY BROWN: Sentiments like that suggest that, however much today's expectations were lowered, the overall stakes in the peace process remain as high as ever.