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Obama-Netanyahu-Abbas summit unlikely to break peace stalemate
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By David Harris, Deng Yushan

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas are set to meet for the first time since the former returned to premiership in March at a tripartite summit with U.S. President Barack Obama on Tuesday.

Positive as it is, analysts noted that given the domestic political situations in the two Middle East neighbours, the meeting would unlikely bring about any breakthrough on the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

On the one hand, Netanyahu faces considerable opposition from his traditionally hawkish coalition partners to any significant moves forward with the Palestinians, said Ely Karmon, a senior researcher at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, Israel.

On the other, nor can Abbas make real progress down the road to compromises and peace while his Fatah movement is still locking horns with Hamas, Karmon added.

Although being the leading Palestinian voice on the international stage, Fatah dominates only in the West Bank, with Hamas controlling the Palestinian enclave of the Gaza Strip. The two sects of Palestinian territories are now separated by Israel.

"Without a solution to the problem in Gaza, the negotiations can't continue in earnest with the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), because the PNA simply doesn't control Gaza," said Karmon.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian side, which suspended the peace talks in protest against Israel's massive operation in Gaza eight months ago, has been accusing Israel of not being genuinely peace- oriented and insisting that Israel is to blame for the stalemate.

Against such a backdrop, the upcoming summit is indeed an achievement and should be welcomed, said Ephraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Israel's renowned Bar-Ilan University.

"This is definitely positive, and it would be good to pass time in this manner," he said, adding that talks are helpful in reducing tensions and confrontations between the parties.

Yet he also pointed out that talks do not necessarily translate into success, as "their views are a long way from a compromise position."

The Palestinian leadership wants to see a Palestinian state established within two years, which means negotiations on the key issues should start immediately. Yet the Israelis cautioned against any rush, conditioning the entry into final-status talks on reciprocal goodwill gestures from both sides.

A sign of their gaping chasm is the frenzied but failed attempt by Obama's special envoy George Mitchell to wrangle a settlement construction freeze deal from Israel during the past week, when he held several rounds of talks with Netanyahu and Abbas.

The Obama administration had expected such an agreement to pave the way for a three-way meeting that might officially resume the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, and the Palestinians vowed not to return to the negotiation table until Israel halts settlement activities.

Yet the Jewish state's best offer was a partial moratorium for a limited period of time, excluding nearly 3,000 housing units already approved or under construction as well as East Jerusalem, a sect of the holy city that the Palestinians want to be the capital of their future state.

As thorny as it could be, the settlement issue is only a tip of an iceberg. Other core issues, including borders, Palestinian refugees and the status of Jerusalem, are no less gruelling and also yet to be tackled.

In face of such a Mideast labyrinth, Obama is widely seen as more even-handed than his apparently pro-Israel predecessor, George W. Bush. The Palestinians believe that Obama brings them a golden opportunity to establish a state on terms as close to their demands as possible, and the Israelis are aware that should Israel fail to move towards a solution, Obama might brandish the stick.

However, Obama's insistence on convening the tripartite summit without any solid achievement in hand, which the White House said showed the president's commitment to the Middle East peace process, might also be risky, said Karmon.

"There's a risk in this meeting over and above the attempt to warm up the atmosphere. If there's a direct clash between the two sides, it certainly won't be good for Obama or the Palestinian and Israeli leaders," he explained.

(Xinhua News Agency September 21, 2009)

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