Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and special envoy George Mitchell leftthe Egyptian resort ofSharm el-Sheikh Tuesday, Sept. 14, after a second, unannounced round of talks found them slightly more cheerful than the first.
Netanyahu refused to treat the Palestinian demand to renew the settlement building freeze which expires in twelve days as a major hurdle, while the Palestinians agreed to let the talks continue r in Jerusalem Wednesday – regardless of this impediment.
Egyptian foreign minister Abul Gheit said the talks were serious and Mitchell called them constructive. They were accompanied by a high alert for trouble in Israel's military, police and security service, following threats from Hamas in Gaza to torpedo the process. Tuesday, Hamas's military chief said only "blood and fire" would serve the Palestinian cause and yield a state "from the Sea to the River."
Missile attacks from Gaza have meanwhile resumed almost daily, so far without causing injuries.
However, there is deep concern over the failure of Israeli and Palestinian security authorities to lay hands on the Hamas gang which struck on the West Bank twice in two weeks – first murdering four Israeli civilians near Hebron on Aug. 30 and injuring a couple north of Ramallah on Sept. 1.
Thursday, Sept. 9, an Iranian-made Grad aimed at Sderot exploded outside a kibbutz. Fragments confirming the type of weapon used were discovered Monday, Sept. 13.
Israel is alerted to the possibility of Hamas carrying out its first missile attack from the West Bank – aimed at such close-range targets as Jerusalem, the Tel Aviv region or even inside the West Bank.
Palestinian security forces have rounded up hundreds of suspected Hamas terrorists but failed to turn up any leads to the perpetrators who are still at large. The Israeli hunt is hindered by Hamas' use of unknown operatives, most likely imported from Lebanon or Syria.
debkafile's military sources report that all six IDF regional brigades on the West Bank and the units guarding the Gaza border are in a state of preparedness.
The declared ultimate aim of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations is the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state beside a secure Israel. The parties are dickering initially over what issue should have priority on the agenda – borders, as the Palestinians want, or security, as demanded by Israel. However, both parties as well as the Obama administration do not realistically expect the final outcome of their direct talks to move in the year allotted to the process beyond a non-binding framework referring in general terms to the core issues of the conflict.
President Barak Obama will be able to present this document as the fruit of his personal intervention for bringing the Israelis and Palestinians into direct talks, one which importantly laid the groundwork for progress toward a final solution of the Middle East conflict to be achieved some years in the future.
It will enable Netanyahu to claim he advanced on the road to peace without giving ground on Israel's essential political and security interests. It means he can hold his coalition government together and face down criticism. As the Sharm talks began, fifteen Israeli cabinet ministers and the Knesset Speaker declared their opposition to any further freezes on building in the Jewish settlements in an open letter. This large bloc will also keep a sharp eye out for concessions they regard as inimical to Israel's interests.
Abbas can hold up the document in Ramallah as proof of his success in winning US endorsement for Palestinian territorial demands.
The talks will most likely stumble forward toward this modest finale between ups and downs and crises, which all three parties will present to their constituencies at home as tactical success against impossible odds.