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As Peace Talks Resume, What’s on the Minds of Middle East Leaders?

President Barack Obama holds a working dinner as part of Middle East peace negotiations; White House Photo by Pete Souza

“Do we have the wisdom and the courage to walk the path of peace?” President Obama asked Middle East leaders Wednesday before a White House dinner kicking off renewed peace negotiations.

Over the past 24 hours, the Middle East leaders have offered their insights, hopes and expectations for the resumption of talks. Some have been hopeful, though cautious; others have offered a more sobering picture of what to expect from the opening round of talks.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu walks in with these reservations:

We want the skyline of the West Bank to be dominated by apartment towers, not missiles. We left Lebanon, we got terror. We left Gaza, and we got terror once again. We want to ensure that territory we concede will not be turned into a third Iranian-sponsored terror enclave aimed at the heart of Israel.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Netanyahu’s counterpart in the direct talks, sees significant potential for the talks, as he seeks to gain the creation of a Palestinian state.

Abbas has said, however, that failure by Israel to renew the settlement freeze that is to expire in September would derail the talks.

We call on the Israeli government to move forward with its commitment to end all settlement activities and completely lift the embargo over the Gaza Strip, Abbas said on Tuesday.

Abbas offered these words on his vision of peace:

We want a peace that will correct the historical injustice caused by the (inaudible) of 1948, and one that brings security to our people and the Israeli people. And we want peace that will give us both and the people of the region a new era where we enjoy just peace, stability, and prosperity.

Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak, leader of the first Arab country to have made peace with Israel highlighted in a New York Times Op-Ed how trust will be a cornerstone of success:

The biggest obstacle that now stands in the way of success is psychological: the cumulative effect of years of violence and the expansion of Israeli settlements have led to a collapse of trust on both sides. For the talks to succeed, we must rebuild trust and a sense of security.

Also at the table for the resumption of direct talks is King Abdullah II of Jordan. He recently met with the Israeli prime minister in aiding efforts to begin direct talks between the two sides.

“Time is not on our side,” he said, adding that achieving a deal within the one-year goal would require “sparing no effort in addressing all final status issues, Abdullah said in opening remarks.”

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