Palestinian president denies agreement to forestall discussion of Jerusalem.
President Mahmoud Abbas has denied coming to any agreement with Israeli PM Ehud Olmert to delay discussing Jerusalem in the current round of meetings.
As we have noted many times on this blog, Jerusalem is a major, if not the, sticking point.
I came across the following statement from Israel's long-time UN ambassador, the late Abba Eban. Although it's addressing the idea of the internationalization of the city, it captures the issue well when it comes to the identities and ideologies of Jerusalem's people:
Israeli foreign minister opposes her prime minister's delay of Jerusalem issue
Salam Fayyad claims little progress on the ground in peace process
Speaking in the U.S. at the Aspen Institute, Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad said that three months after the Annapolis meetings little has changed on the ground as far as Israel's efforts are concerned.
While, according to Tony Blair, the Palestinians have made progress on security issues, Fayyad said that with respect to road blocks and settlements, "You see no change in the way that Israel operates."
The future division of Jerusalem between Palestinians and Israelis stalls "core issues" negotiation
Israel's PM Ehud Olmert seemed to push Jerusalem off the table again today. He said that because the city's future is such a sensitive issue, other matters, such as borders, will be tackled first as this year proceeds toward George Bush's timetable for a Mid-East agreement before he leaves office in January 2009. Not without good reason have many observers noted that the city is really the heart of the century-long conflict.In the opening chapter of Identity Ideology and the Future of Jerusalem (Palgrave 2006), I wrote:
Explosive, contentious, capable of drawing in much of the world community—this is the pervasive nature of the problem.
I have delayed comment on President Bush's only visit to Israel and Palestine during his two terms of office to be able to take a longer view.
Assessments of the visit are guarded at best.
At the beginning of the tour the Economist laid out the puzzle and the challenge in Israel and Palestine. At the end of the week long circuit, the same source summed up the prospects of success and the sub-text of the tour when it comes to arms supplies and who is providing what to whom.
Will they be able to jump-start the Middle East peace process?
|Reuters reports that the Israeli and Palestinian leaders will meet today, Thursday, to try to get stalled talks going again. But there is concern that it will take outside intervention to break the logjam over Israel's continued East Jerusalem building program.|
Still no sign of progress toward peace
|The Washington Post carried an editorial comment today about the noisy exchange over Israel's plan to build more homes in Har Homa overlooking Bethlehem. The point is that it is a marginal issue when both sides know there will be land swaps in a final solution for Jerusalem. True. But wisdom would suggest that provocation of any kind is not the path to meaningful and just peace.|
Is Middle East peace a distant dream?
In a report from the Israel Project attention is directed to the plight of Palestinian Christians whose numbers have dwindled in recent years. The site of Jesus' birth has been hard hit. As the report notes, "Bethlehem in particular has seen a dramatic decline in its Christian population. Of Bethlehem’s 30,000 residents, less than 20 percent are Christian. In 1948 though, more than 85 percent of the town’s inhabitants were Christian." In the West Bank and Gaza the drop in numbers is even more dramatic. Once at 15% of the Palestinian population (1948), Christians now represent only 1½%. Muslim persecution is certainly one of the reasons for the decline as the report shows.
Though religious tolerance is usually relegated in discussions about the peace process, without mutual respect between Christians, Muslims and Jews, progress in the Middle East will remain a distant dream. The issue of Jerusalem's declining Christian population is a subject I treat in Identity, Ideology and the Future of Jerusalem.
|Michael B. Oren, author of arguably the best account of the Six Day War, had an op-ed piece in the New York Times this weekend. It makes the point that Annapolis succeeded not so much as a peace conference but as a prelude to further conflict in which moderate Middle Easterners of all stripes will oppose the"extremism" of Iran.|
Hosted by the US with Arab and Israeli support—more than 40 nations including significant participants Saudi Arabia and Syria, the Israeli-Palestinian talks in Annapolis were launched yesterday and get underway today. It is said to be just the beginning of a year long process. It seems that a number of critical factors are coalescing and there may be a positive outcome. Fear of the Iran-Hamas-Hezbollah axis, the continued stability of the moderate Arab states, Israel's security situation, Palestinian economic and humanitarian desperation, George Bush's fractured image and last year in office—are all elements in the mix.
The difficult decisions to be made by Israeli and West Bank Palestinian negotiators include the status of Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees' right of return, borders, settlements. security and water rights. Jerusalem is a microcosm of the whole century long conflict, as my book, Identity, Ideology and the Future of Jerusalem points out. The BBC's Martin Asser details the Jerusalem issue today in an article entitled Obstacles to Peace.