Thursday: Middle East Talks Begin; Hurricane Earl Forces Evacuations

BY Tom LeGro  September 2, 2010 at 10:07 AM EDT

Mahmoud Abbas and Benjamin Netanyahu

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House on Wednesday. Photo by Tim Sloan/AFP/Getty Images.

The day after meeting with President Obama at the White House, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas sit down for the first of a series of meetings aimed at creating peace in the Middle East as well as the creation of a Palestinian state.

The meetings at the State Department will be mediated by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and special Mideast peace envoy George Mitchell.

The BBC’s Paul Reynolds outlines where the United States, Israel and the Palestinians stand on these core issues of the conflict: Jerusalem, borders, settlements, refugees and security.

NPR’s Lourdes Garcia-Navarro says the building of settlements may tear down the peace talks:

“Up until now, Netenyahu has managed a balancing act — keeping together his largely right wing coalition, many of whom support settlements — while moving forward with the peace talks. They don’t want to see him back down on the issue of settlements.”

Indeed, the New York Times asks:

“How does Mr. Netanyahu address the Israeli religious right, which supports settlements and has more political influence now than in 2000? Will he or the government ever be able to bring the settler movement on board to any negotiations?”

Foreign Policy’s Stephen M. Walt, meantime, examines Hamas’ motives in shooting four Israeli settlers on the West Bank on Tuesday:

“[M]y first thought was that the shooting was both a crime and a blunder, because it would only reaffirm Hamas’s pariah status and keep them outside the peace process even longer. But then I reconsidered. I think the more important lesson here is that Hamas has already assumed that this latest round of talks will fail, and that this failure will pound the final nail in the coffin of the two-state solution.”

The Washington Post’s Scott Wilson finds an unlikely source of optimism in these talks: Iran:

“One reason for optimism may be the shared regional fear of Iran, which has only grown since talks broke off between Israelis and Palestinians in December 2008….Iran’s threat is a common concern to all of them.”

Hurricane Earl Heading for East Coast

Hurricane Earl is heading toward the East Coast on Thursday with winds of around 145 mph, a powerful Category 4 storm. Forecasters are trying to determine exactly how close the strongest gales and heaviest surge would get to shore.

The governors of North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland declared states of emergency, and three counties in North Carolina have issued evacuation orders.

The National Hurricane Center issued a tropical storm warning early Thursday for the coast of Long Island in New York and a hurricane watch was issued for areas of Massachusetts. A hurricane warning was already in effect for the coast of North Carolina.

Gates Visits Afghanistan

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates arrived in Afghanistan for meetings with President Hamid Karzai and top NATO commander Gen. David Petraeus. Gates also plans to visit U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Meantime, NATO said two U.S. service members were killed.

Bernanke Testifies

Fed Chief Ben Bernanke testifies Thursday before the financial crisis inquiry commission. Bernanke is presenting his analysis of the crisis and views on potential risks as the panel approaches the end of its yearlong investigation into the Wall Street meltdown.

The Wall Street Journal is live blogging the hearing today.