The perspective from the street

Israelis and Palestinians tell us what they expect from the talks.

Hamas supporters attend a rally against
the Annapolis peace summit [GALLO/GETTY]

As the Annapolis Middle East peace talks approach, Al Jazeera asked Palestinians and Israelis, along with others who live in the region, what they expect the talks to achieve and what they would like to see come from them.

M Mahmoud, teacher, West Bank

“I don’t expect anything from these talks. We have already heard and seen many rounds of talks that resulted in nothing – with the exception of exerting pressure on the Palestinian side to widen the rift between Palestinians.

Unfortunately, our Palestinian negotiation team seems submissive to orders issued by the totally biased American policy towards Israel. On the other hand, Israel has never expressed willingness to commit to peace.

No nation ever mentions the core of the problem, which is ending the occupation and leaving Palestinians to establish their own relations with the wider world.”

Pablo Pitcher, youth and communications co-ordinator, photographer and writer, Dheisheh refugee camp, West Bank

“The talks are plastered all over the news in English and Arabic, yet if you ask someone walking on the street here in Dheisheh refugee camp, they will usually give an answer that, to me, sounds the same; that there have been talks for years, that there have been promises for years and has anything changed?

More than anything, I am just curious, what will they talk about? What will they say is going to come out of this?

Your Views

“The talks will prove that you cannot talk peace without the participation of the elected representatives of the Palestinian people”

Niloufar, Tehran, Iran

Send us your views

I came to the Palestine/Israel area to learn about the problems here and to see, firsthand, what was going on.

When I listen to anyone on either side talk about the issue and I read about what has happened over the last 60 years, I am struck by many things. For people on both sides of these issues what are “talks” going to accomplish?

There have been talks, there have been promises and yet there has been no movement forward, no movement to find a solution to this issue that is even feasible.

The US will play host to these talks with the idea of a Palestinian state on the table. It will try to paint itself as the mediator, the facilitator, even the possible saviour of this division in the Holy Land.

With no joint document, with each side refusing to lay on the table certain issues like Jerusalem and the status of the over six million Palestinian refugees, with each side coming to the table with a list of demands that crash up against each other, it is increasingly possible that the talks will be little more than political words floated in the air to make the US look better, to make people think that the Israeli government is trying.

I would like to see justice come from the talks.

I expect that they will generate a lot of on-camera time for US politicians, especially those embroiled in the high-stakes poker game leading up to the next elections. I expect that we will hear a lot of words, a lot of talk, that promises will be laid on the table but in the end, nothing will be accomplished. I mean, look at the fact that the UN resolutions that have been approved have never been enforced.”

Ze’ev Orlov, computer engineer, 25,  Ma’alot-Tarshiha (a mixed Arab-Jewish town in western Galilee)

“Generally I support the idea of negotiations over continuous warfare. I believe both sides, except for the margins in both societies, are tired of the conflict and eager to reach its final solution. However, negotiations must be fair and sincere in the sense that both sides will have to compromise on the key issues.

I would like to see the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and a complete transfer of responsibility for the Palestinian population from Israel to the Palestinian state. In addition, the new Palestinian state must recognise Israel as a Jewish state and give up any claims of its land such as the right of return for Palestinian refugees. Israel will of course withdraw completely (or with land exchange) from the West Bank.

Knowing the history, I don’t expect anything, but I hope that some progress will be made. If the talks fail, most probably we’ll have Hamas in the West Bank.”

Nael Khalil Abu Arqoub, university lecturer, 46, Hebron, West Bank

Can the summit achieve anything while
Palestinians are divided? [GALLO/GETTY]

“Based on the recent history and performance of the current Palestinian leadership, I do feel a great degree of dissatisfaction and mistrust of those people. Thus, nothing of concrete value could be achieved for Palestinians. I doubt they will manage to secure food and free movement on roads – not more than that.

I would like to see Arab leaders act as responsible people and honest in running constructive talks with the US administration that are based on the interests of Arabs. To the best of my knowledge and critical reading of history, Palestine is not more than a logo for those who run their businesses. Palestine is the price of having so many regimes that serve the immediate and long-term interests of the super power – the US.

Having one Arab state for Arabs regardless of their colour, race or religion is the dream of wise people. One day this dream might be materialised. This state could protect the rights of its residents and negotiate with all international players the mutual interest of all. Palestine should not be the attractive game for those who play chess professionally. I invite Arabs to build on the experience of others. The EU structure is a case in point.”

Nadav, software engineer, 37, Tel Aviv

“My general feeling toward the talks are that their chances of success are quite slim, because of the leadership weakness on both sides. Ehud Olmert is a very unpopular prime minister, so he will have a hard time making concessions, because they might make him look even weaker.

Regarding Mahmoud Abbas, I tend to believe he would like to have an agreement with Israel, but he is even weaker than Olmert. This has been clearly demonstrated with Hamas’s takeover of Gaza. Even before this act, he never seemed to be able to enforce his will over Palestinian society, and now it is not clear to me whether he represents the whole of the Palestinian people, or just a fraction of it. So I’m not sure he is able to make concessions on behalf of the Palestinians, even if he truly would like to.

I’m afraid the gaps between Israel and the Palestinians are too great to solve at this moment in time. Specifically, Palestinians seem reluctant to give up what they refer to as ‘the right of return’, while most Israelis cannot accept this, because it will bring about the termination of its character as the state of the Jewish people. I think this problem is too fundamental for weak leaders to tackle.

Having said that, I think the very existence of the summit is generally a good thing, because it reminds everybody that there might be a different way, which does not involve violence.

The key issue for me is one and one only: The assurance that Israel would continue to exist as a Jewish and democratic state. I would compromise over land, willing even to give east Jerusalem to the Palestinians, but I cannot compromise the reason for which Israel was established – being the national state for the Jewish people.

I believe the most important thing is concentrating on what can be realistically achieved at this point in time, rather than trying to solve the whole conflict at once. Chances of success would improve, if the goals are kept modest. For example, improvement of everyday life, so that trust is regained, and a more profound peace process can emerge later on. It is crucial to establish regular talks with one another.

It is extremely important for Israel to allow Abbas to show real achievements, so that his way would become more popular among his people. I think Israel should make two steps for every step Abbas takes.”

Sam Rose, journalist/writer, 49, Jerusalem

Israelis mark the anniversary of Yitzhak
Rabin’s assassination [GALLO/GETTY]

“I am not really holding any hope that the talks would deliver anything to the Palestinians.

I don’t believe that the Israelis are serious or interested in any meaningful peace process.

Israel is continuing its settlement building at an alarming pace. More and more settlements are being built and existing ones are expanding on a daily bases.

Israel is also continuing its policy of keeping a tight stranglehold on the Palestinian economy.

The apartheid wall is destroying any prospect of economic recovery in the future and Palestinian towns and villages have become isolated, which threatens not only the economy but social and family ties. Life is far from normal to ordinary Palestinians who feel very much abandoned by the rest of the world. The Palestinian Authority is so weak that no one takes it seriously any more.

As for the Israeli government, Olmert is more interested in keeping his coalition together by adopting some of the most right-wing policies in the history of Israel. Racist and draconian laws have been approved by the Israeli Knesset and peripheral figures like Avigdor Liebermann are becoming increasingly influential. I believe it to be another photo opportunity gathering but nothing will change on the ground.

What I would like to come from any conference is a declaration that Israel would pull its army out of the occupied territories and dismantle all its illegal settlements that have been built on stolen Palestinian land within six months. I would also like to see an international peacekeeping force and monitors to supervise the Israeli withdrawal from every inch of occupied territory, including East Jerusalem.

Israel is trying to maintain its occupation of Palestinian land while only giving the PA some of the dirty jobs such as collecting the rubbish and policing the territories to ensure Israel’s security. 

Christopher Corr, Irish-born journalist, 26, Bethlehem

“The Israeli government is offering next to nothing and any suggestions resulting from the summit are non-binding. It seems to me that while the Palestinian Authority is talking-up the summit in the hope that it is taken more seriously, the Israelis are, at every occasion, downplaying its importance.

 What I would like to see are firm commitments regarding borders, the status of Jerusalem, West Bank settlements, Palestinian refugees, Palestinian prisoners and water rights. I would be incredibly surprised if anything firm on any of these issues emerges.

Instead, this conference, like so many before it, will be muddied by Israeli demands that the so-called ‘terror infrastructure’ be dismantled before the Israeli government implements any of the demands made to it by the Palestinians, the UN, the US, or any other body.”

Z’ev, Israel

“My dreams would have the leadership make personal commitments to work for two states; one Palestinian-Arabic and one Hebraic, that would be able to welcome Christians, Jews and Muslims.

I would like to be able to visit friends in the other state as easily as going to Canada from the US or even from Pennsylvania to Delaware.

The Israeli leadership must acknowledge that the state has ‘done wrong’ and so must the PA leadership. Both sides must come to an operable agreement on how they will jointly stop terrorist attacks. The PA representatives will have to decide on how they will handle the split between the two non-contiguous enclaves – recall how the Bengali bay state of Bangladesh came to be.”

Steven Jacob Daitch, songwriter, Tel Aviv, Israel

Is the leadership of both sides too weak to
tackle some of the key issues? [GALLO/GETTY]

“Even if Olmert was strong, it takes two to tango and Abbas doesn’t have a leg to dance on.

Muslim extremists are far more determined to thwart any progress towards co-existence than the so-called moderates are determined to take them on.

[Yassir] Arafat clearly had the power to lead his people from their desert, but never the will. Abbas, on the other hand, may have the will, but is – for all intents and purposes – impotent.

Anti-Semitism is a drag. But as I observe the Arab Muslim world, I cannot even begin to imagine the suffering a Palestinian refugee endures (or has endured for over 60 years) knowing their own Muslim brethren have forsaken them for so long.

As much as Israel’s one million-plus Arabs and other minorities may not (yet) enjoy the same rights as Israel’s six million Jews, at least they have the democratic means and freedom – not to mention security – to better their lives and their children’s lives. Given the miraculous rate at which Israel is advancing, in contrast to the chaos occupying Gaza, I can see why a Palestinian refugee would rather settle in Israel than Gaza.
I would like to see progress towards a two-state solution. However, I expect all hell to break lose again on the Palestinian side soon afterwards.

If Israel could accomplish statehood despite mammoth opposition, surely the Palestinians can too, especially given the fact that the whole world wants them to have a country already, including most Israelis. Sad, never before have a people been their own worst enemies.
The key issue for me is a better life for both Palestinians and Israelis now so that other issues affecting far more people (Darfur, hunger, poverty, aids, child abuse, sexual abuse, women’s rights, gay rights, nuclear Iran, environment…) receive the attention they deserve from the  media, UN, governments, and religious leaders.“

Source: Al Jazeera

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