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Israeli And Palestinian Summit Optimism

Israel's President Shimon Peres:'Washington Summit Got Off To Good Start Considering All The Scepticism'

Palestinian Sources:'We Were Pleased With U.S. Approach And One Year Time-frame For Peace Agreement'

IsraCast:Israeli & Palestinian Officials Are Sending Optimistic Signals After Summit - Upbeat Tone Is Likely To Trigger Charges Of 'Sellout' By Critics Of Both Netanyahu & Abbas

Mahmoud Abbas, Benyamin Netanyahu, Barack Obama(Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

 Both Israel's Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas have come away from the Washington summit in an upbeat mood. Back home in the Middle East, their critics on both sides will be asking: 'Just what did he concede at the summit?' IsraCast analyst David Essing says the stage may have been set for both Netanyahu and Abbas to take some fateful decisions in the coming year with the U.S. acting as adjudicator. Meanwhile, the Arab world appears ready to support a resolution of the conflict while Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah are enraged and trying to inflame the Arab world against the current peace move.

 All the actors, even Hamas, played their roles in the Washington summit, stage-managed so carefully by the U.S. In public, Netanyahu and Abbas said the right things about the urgent need to end the conflict. Obama and Clinton after previously pummeling Netanyahu over settlements, were encouraging both sides, and the Arab world represented by Mubarak and Abdullah were friends of both sides and at peace with Israel. Then there was Hamas, always to be depended upon to try and play the spoiler. The Hamas massacre of four Israeli civilians near Hebron, was patently planned to derail the latest peace train before it had even left the station. The drive-by carnage would embarrass Abbas and spark a justifiable tirade by Netanyahu - the summit would, as Iran's President Mahmoud Achmadenijad declared be 'stillborn'. But this did not happen for two separate reasons. Not only did Abbas condemn the Hamas atrocity, he ordered the Palestinian forces on the West Bank to launch a massive manhunt for the killers. Hundreds of Hamas members were arrested and within seventy- two hours, two 'prime suspects' were caught.

Abbas had proved he meant business about cracking down on West Bank terrorism. For his part, Netanyahu did not use the killings to castigate Abbas or allow it to torpedo the summit, as planned by Hamas. It did highlight Netanyahu's position that 'only security could bring peace' and not the other way around. However Netanyahu, reminiscent of Yitzak Rabin, proceeded on to the summit and did not permit Hamas terrorism to torpedo the peace effort. Netanyahu had also shown he meant business about peace-making. Pardoxically but sadly, the Hamas barbarity may have established some lacking mutual credibility between the two leaders.

Benyamin Netanyahu, Barack Obama (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama and Secretary Hillary Clinton were there in full force. After smoothing over what many Israelis viewed as his mugging of Natanyahu on settlements, Obama and Clinton told the sides that only they could make peace, an imposed settlement was not on their agenda. But reading between the lines, special envoy George Mitchell, who had been instrumental in rallying Arab League support for the peace talks, would be an on the spot adjudicator, when the Israeli and Palestinian negotiators get down to the nitty-gritty of the core-issues. And the Israeli Prime Minister has to be aware, if the talks fail and Washington does not side with Jerusalem, Israel would be on her own in future deliberations by the Quartet and the UN. In addition, Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan's King Abdullah II were active players in Washington signifying the Arab world's real support for an end to the Israeli- Palestinian conflict. (Who needs it with the Iranian nuclear threat breathing down the necks of the Sunni Arab states as much as Israel). Even Amr Musa, the hostile Arab League Secretary, has now heralded it as the 'last round' of negotiations leading to peace. And he added:'The Arabs are ready for peace with Israel in return for a total Israeli withdrawal to the lines of 1967, including eastern Jerusalem'.

So what went on behind closed doors at the Washington summit. Both Netanyahu and Abbas have ordered their aides to keep mum; undesirable leaks could lead to trouble back home. Israel's Washington Ambassador Michael Oren has spoken of 'serious and pleasant talks, even in a friendly spirit'. And in a telephone conversation with American Jewish leaders, Oren added:' I have reason to feel optimistic'. And what of the Palestinian precondition that Israel must extend its unilateral settlement freeze after it expires on Sept.26th. The Ambassador has said: 'In the same manner that we do not set precondition for negotiations that the Palestinians resolve their internal differences with Hamas, so that we know that we are negotiating with all the Palestinians and not just half of them as represented by Mahmoud Abbas, so we do not agree that the Palestinians select one of the core issues and predetermine the result as a precondition for talks'. State President Shimon Peres, an old hand at peace efforts, viewed the summit as: 'Surprisingly good and very promising in light of the skepticism surrounding it. None of us has a real alternative to making peace'.

Mahmoud Abbas, Barack Obama (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

In London the Al Hayat newspaper, known for its reliable connections to the Palestinian Authority, reported that Abbas was pleased with the summit. From the Palestinian perspective there had been a '180 degree turn in America's approach'. The Palestinians, who were reticent to go to the summit, were particularly pleased with the time frame of one year for reaching an agreement.

Back in Netanyahu's coalition, Left wing Labor is already claiming victory. At a public event, Deputy Minister Nurit Nokad declared: 'Bibi Netanyahu is following in the footsteps of Yitzak Rabin!' That is exactly what the PM does not need before he faces his Right wing critics, not to speak of West Bank settlers'. They will be champing at the bit demanding to know just what Netanyahu said privately in Washington that smacks, in their view, of unwarranted Israeli concessions.

Hamas - for the fourth day running, Hamas launched another Qassam rocket into Israel. It landed in a Negev field without injuring anyone. No damage was reported. In Lebanon, Hezbollah leader Sheik Nasrallah branded Abbas as a traitor- nothing new about that. But when Iran's Foreign Minister Menushar Mutaki accused Mubarak and Abdullah of betraying their countries by attending the summit, there were consequences. The Iranian ambassador was summoned to the foreign ministry and informed that next week's visit by the Iranian foreign minister had been canceled.

David Essing

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