The latest attempt to build peace in the Middle East gets underway today, but in an atmosphere of increasing pessimism. The issue of Jewish settlements in the West Bank is expected to dominate the talks at Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt, with pro-settler parties vowing to bring down the Israeli government if they consider Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is giving away too much.
Netanyahu has already said he will not extend a freeze on settlement construction, although he may curb future plans. The Palestinians say they’ll walk away from the talks if building resumes.
“I don’t believe that it is feasible, that it is realistic, to think that Netanyahu is ready to bridge such a huge gap,” said former Israeli negotiator Yossi Beilin. “His views are very far from the minimal requirements of President Mahmoud Abbas. As a result I’m afraid that the discussions, the negotiations, might collapse very soon.”
Officially, the two sides say they hope for an agreement within a year. President Obama has invested much political capital in these talks, and a swift implosion would come as a major blow.