Palestinians, Israelis Say Expectations Are Low

What are Israelis and Palestinians saying about the renewed peace talks and the possibility of a settlement? From a teacher in Jaffa, to the mayor of Tel Aviv, to a settlement resident on the Greenline, to a Palestinian activist and a Palestinian businesswoman developing coffee franchises — there are low expectations of a break-through.

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Israeli and Palestinian leaders hold another round of peace talks tomorrow, this time in the Egyptian resort town Sharm el-Sheikh. The parties have agreed to conclude a deal within a year. However, the two sides have negotiated for decades with little to show for it. And for Israelis and Palestinians watching negotiations from afar, it's deja vu all over again.

NPR's Deborah Amos sampled opinions from Tel Aviv to the West Bank.

DEBORAH AMOS: Don't ask in Tel Aviv about the peace process, residents will tell you. It's a different world, where indifference is profound. And Israelis say this is due to the Tel Aviv bubble. Life is good in this secular seaside city, grown rich on high-tech startups and venture capital firms.

Fifty-year-old Uriel Cohen(ph) says he doesn't even believe in a peace settlement anymore.

URIEL COHEN: Absolutely not.

AMOS: Why?

COHEN: I think it's not going to be good solution for Israel.

AMOS: And on a chance meeting with Mayor Ron Huldai, even he dismisses the idea of a settlement with the Palestinians within a year. He's besieged by citizens on the way to his office who want to negotiate taxes and traffic tickets, not peace talks.

Do you think Tel Aviv is paying attention?

RON HULDAI: What do you mean Tel Aviv?

AMOS: But people talk about the Tel Aviv bubble.

HULDAI: You have those who believe, you have those who do not believe.

AMOS: And you believe?

HULDAI: I say I hope.

AMOS: What do Israelis believe? Across the country, Israelis say that education, crime and national security are more pressing problems. A poll in August, called the Peace Index, showed only 25 percent believe talks can lead to a permanent peace.

You become and more skeptical, to the point of indifference, wrote one newspaper columnist.

(SOUNDBITE OF CONSTRUCTION MACHINERY)

AMOS: But drive further east, and indifference is replaced by anxiety.

This is Mevo-Horon, an Israeli settlement near Jerusalem. Construction here, illegal under international law, has been banned by the Israeli government for the past 10 months.

ROTEM KLEIN: But you know, on the map, we are over the Green Line, so we are not allowed to build. And I guess when the time comes, this will be a place to negotiate on.

AMOS: That's Rotem Klein, a resident along with 300 Israeli families. Palestinians say the Green Line is their border line. In a peace accord, Mevo-Horon might have to pack up and go.

If the building ban is lifted at the end of the month, the Palestinian president insists he'll walk out of the talks. The issue will dominate the meeting in Egypt. Klein is convinced that ending Israeli occupation of the West Bank would be a disaster.

KLEIN: Right now it doesn't seem realistic to even think about it. People are not ready for it. We don't really think that there's really a partner to speak to, and we are pretty much pessimistic. You can say that.

AMOS: Israel's prime minister says the Palestinian leader is his partner. A new media campaign was launched to convince Israelis.

Unidentified Man #1: (Speaking foreign language).

AMOS: Dr. Saeb Erekat, a Palestinian negotiator, is one of a dozen voices who have appeared on Israeli media about peace talks that have gone on for years.

(SOUNDBITE OF MEDIA CLIP)

SAEB EREKAT: Shalom to you in Israel. I know we have disappointed you. I know we have been unable to deliver peace for the last 19 years. It can be done and will be done. I am your partner. Are you mine?

AMOS: But how to convince Palestinians, when the only Israelis they see are soldiers. This is the Qalandia checkpoint, the gates for the Israeli security checks on the way to Ramallah, a town under Palestinian control in the West Bank.

There is an economic revival in Ramallah with building cranes on every empty lot. Palestinians talk of the Ramallah bubble, where they can almost forget the Israeli occupation. Carpenters here put up the walls of a coffee shop, Saman, a second outlet in Ramallah. Owner Huda Al Jaq(ph), a young Palestinian entrepreneur, invested here after a former round of peace talks promised a breakthrough.

HUDA A: We made the decision to move back during the good days. We were hoping, you know, things were going to make a breakthrough. So we came. We invested, and...

AMOS: You lost your shirt.

JAQ: Yes, we lost everything.

AMOS: She knows what can happen when peace talks fail, but she's willing to build again. The Palestinian Authority is building, too: state institutions, a security force, the infrastructure of a state. Is this time the right time for an agreement?

JAQ: Every time they talk, and we don't get to anywhere, expectations go down. There is more desperation, I think. So a breakthrough is obviously something we all want. But we don't plan on it. I hope for it. I don't plan on it.

AMOS: Another round of talks begins tomorrow, but Palestinians and Israelis are far from convinced their leaders are finally ready to make a deal.

Deborah Amos, NPR News, Jerusalem.

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