August 14, 2013
The latest effort to inject life into the long-stalled peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians is expected to resume Wednesday. Senior Israeli and Palestinian negotiators - along with United States mediators -- are set to meet for a second round of talks at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem.
U.S. State Department officials are hopeful. "Both sides are at the negotiating table in good faith here because they believe in the importance of the peace process. They believe that the most important way to settle these issues is through a negotiated final status agreement," said Marie Harf, a State Department spokeswoman.
But contention runs deep even as Israel released 26 Palestinian prisoners - a condition of the talks.
In the West Bank town of Hebron, Umm Asem was looking forward to seeing her husband, imprisoned in Israel for the 1992 killing of an army reservist. "It is difficult to describe my feelings. It is a feeling of happiness which I hope God will grant to all people,'' she said.
The release of the pisoners has riled many Israelis, some of whom tried and failed to get the Israeli courts to intervene.
"Where are we going now?" pondered Meir Indor, a member of the Almagor Terror Victims Association. "The terrorists to go out, the people who have been murdered are in the grave. That's not the way to bring peace. It will bring more violence."
Meanwhile, Israel's approval this week of about 2,000 new settlement homes, including some in mainly-Palestinian East Jerusalem, has Palestinians fuming.
Israel's housing minister, though, was defiant. "In simple words, we are simply building. Go outside and see we are building. And not only that, we will continue to build thousands of housing units. This is appropriate, this is what we should do, and so we shall do," said Uri Ariel.
Senior Palestinian leader Hanan Ashrawi said the settlement announcement could sabotage peace talks. "It's very clear that Israel once again is manipulating the process in order to create facts on the ground that would render negotiations entirely irrelevant because it would preempt their outcome," he stated.
Anthony Cordesman, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said it does not have to be a deal-breaker. “A lot depends on how pragmatic both sides are, how willing they are to look at the full range of pressures that affect and threaten them,” he explained.
Those pressures, Cordesman said, include the political uncertainty across Israel's borders in Egypt and the continuing war in Syria. And for the Palestinians, the longer it takes to forge a compromise with the Israelis, Cordesman said, the more Israeli settlements are likely to go up.