Matthew Rusling
August 24, 2010 - 12:00am

Friday's announcement of a new round of Middle East peace talks has stirred skepticism over whether the negotiations will amount to any meaningful progress.

Moreover, some experts said both the Israelis and Palestinians are simply going through the motions in a bid to placate Washington.

"In effect you have both sides just doing this to please the United States," said Michele Dunne, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Neither side believes that a negotiated solution can result from the talks, nor are they prepared to make major concessions, she said.

Talks between Israelis and Palestinians have been stalled since a breakdown more than a year ago, and many are skeptical over whether a solution can be found to a rivalry that has spanned several decades.

While some have applauded U.S. President Barack Obama for bringing the issue back to the front burner, Dunne said the potential for success is low.

The Palestinian leadership is weakened by a rift between Fatah and Hamas, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has no other options but to accept what Obama is presenting, she said.

"There's a strong feeling on the Palestinian side that the Palestinians were forced into this," she said.

On the Israeli side, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the governing coalition have shown little interest in a negotiated solution with the Palestinians, she said.

"They are just going along with this to preserve relations with the United States," she said.

Robert Danin, senior fellow for Middle East and Africa studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote on the organization's Web site that the international "quartet" -- the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and the United States -- feel more urgency to tackle the issue than the Israelis and Palestinians.

Moreover, the two sides are "singing from different song sheets." Abbas will enter talks based on the quartet statement calling for "a settlement that ends the occupation which began in 1967 and results in the emergence of an independent, democratic and viable Palestinian state," he argued.

Netanyahu will come to Washington in response to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's call for negotiations "without preconditions," he wrote.

Trust is absent from Israeli-Palestinian relations, as the Second Intifada of 2001-2003 killed not only thousands of Israelis and Palestinians, but also demolished the sense for most that peace is even possible, he argued.

"That popular skepticism severely constrains the negotiators' abilities to make concessions," he contended.

On Saturday, Netanyahu announced plans to end the moratorium on the construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, which is set to expire in September.

That threatens to derail the talks, as Abbas on Monday threatened to pull out of the negotiations if the moratorium is not extended.

The issue drove a wedge between the United States and Israel in March when Israel announced the building of 1,600 new Jewish housing units, as the Obama administration views the settlements as an obstacle to the peace process.

David Pollock, senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said the negotiations do not hinge solely on that issue, adding that talks could continue if the moratorium ends quietly and without a great deal of publicity.

On Friday, Clinton proposed a one-year timeline that critics said is unrealistic.

Some experts, however, said the deadline is not all that important, and argued that the Obama administration views the timeframe as more of a goal than a make-or-break deadline.

"I don't take the deadline very seriously. If the negotiations are making progress, then they'll continue, regardless of the deadline," said Pollock, adding that any plans to come to a solution within a year would be unrealistic.


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