Israeli, Palestinian Summit Accomplishes Little
LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning. Renee Montange is away this week.
A summit between Israelis and Palestinians is over in New York City, and they're blaming each other for failing to accomplish much beyond a handshake. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met in the presence of President Obama, who urged them to stop wasting time.
NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro is following this story from Jerusalem, and she's here for some analysis. Lourdes, what are two sides saying about the failure to make some kind of progress in New York?
LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: I spoke with Israel's Deputy Prime Minister Danny Ayalon, and he pointed the finger at the Palestinians. Let's listen to what he has to say.
Deputy Prime Minister DANNY AYALON (Israel): Well, as far as Israel is concerned, we would welcome very much a declaration or a statement that negotiations will be resumed with the Palestinians, but it's not up to us. So far, it's the Palestinians who are dragging their feet. They are resisting and refusing and objecting any meetings with us. We stand ready, and we hope that the president will be able to move Mr. Abbas into the right direction.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: He told me that Israel has agreed to a temporary and partial halt to settlement activity, but that the Israeli government will not halt what it terms natural growth, meaning building to accommodate the needs of the existing population in the settlements in the occupied West Bank. I also spoke to the Palestinians. They say there can be no talks without a complete halt to settlement activity. Here is Abdullah Abdullah, a senior Fatah Council member.
Dr. ABDULLAH ABDULLAH (Senior Fatah Council Member): It is only Israel that is (unintelligible) any of its obligations, the first of which is stoppage of all settlement activities, including natural growth and including settlements in Jerusalem. They are committed to prolonging the Israeli occupation and making every effort to disrupt the election of a Palestinian state, and that is not the way to make peace.
INSKEEP: OK, so where does that leave things, Lourdes Garcia-Navarro?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Exactly. Where does that leave things? Mr. Obama's Middle East envoy George Mitchell is returning here for another round of mediation next week. Israeli and Palestinian envoys are also coming to Washington. President Obama says he expects a progress report in mid-October, but the two sides, Steve, seems pretty entrenched. And Netanyahu has given no indication that he is willing bend on the settlement issue. His largely right wing coalition has strong settler supporters in it, and he's made it clear on numerous occasions that limited settlement construction will continue. He also says any talks that do start will not include a discussion of Jerusalem. The Palestinians say core issues like Jerusalem need to be on the table.
And so what I've been told by both sides is that the ball is now in America's court. The Palestinians want the president to increase the pressure on Israelis, and the Israelis want to see what the Americans can come up with in terms of getting the Palestinians to come to the table. It's going to be a real test of the president's clout in the region.
INSKEEP: So, each of these sides is saying it's somebody else's responsibility to get things going, but when you get beyond the politicians, Lourdes, what do you hear or what do you see in surveys or any other measure of public opinion as to what the public wants on either side of the dividing line here?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, I spent yesterday speaking to Israelis and Palestinians, and I have to say there was great deal of ennui. Both sides say they don't really see any possibility of peace talks moving forward. Both sides said that even if there are peace talks, they're not confident that there will be a settlement. So, really, what you're seeing on the ground is a great deal of dissatisfaction in regards to this whole process. Especially with the Palestinians, you know, there's a great deal of disaffection there with their leadership and also with the peace process in general, and a great deal of mistrust when you talk to them about the Israelis and their intentions.
INSKEEP: How long has it been since these two sides have held what were seen as meaningful peace talks?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, the last time they sat together in a room was many, many months ago, and I have to say it was during the last administration, the last Israeli administration, not this one. You know, since Prime Minister Netanyahu has come into government, he has not been able to meet with Abbas. That was the first meeting that happened with President Obama. And so, really, the prospects at the moment are looking very, very dim.
You know, one editorial in the Israeli center-right paper Maariv opposed this question regarding President Obama. It said: Does he have the energy, strength and ability to move this stuck locomotive forward, to bash Netanyahu and Abbas' heads together until they realize that they have no choice? We will know the answer to this question in the coming months, it said.
INSKEEP: NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro was in Jerusalem. Lourdes, thanks very much, as always.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: You are welcome.
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