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Expert Q&A: Prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace

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Marina Ottoway, of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and Ori Nir, of Americans for Peace Now, spoke with amNewYork about the prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits the U.S. this week:

What does the U.S. and Israel hope to accomplish during the visit?

ON: President [Barack] Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu hope to show that the relationship between ... the two countries is solid. On policy, they differ: Obama hopes to receive from Netanyahu a substantial offer that will make it possible to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Netanyahu hopes for … support to fend off international pressure on Israel to negotiate with the Palestinians and establish a Palestinian state along the 1967 lines in the West Bank and Gaza.

What’s the status of the peace talks? 

MO: The talks are frozen and the prospects for getting them started are dim unless the U.S. sets forth its own outline for a solution.

What does Obama have to do to make progress?

MO: [He must] force the discussion to focus on outcomes and not process.

Can Obama make that happen?

MO: [The relationship] is very tense, Israelis do not trust Obama. They are resentful of his attempt to force a settlement freeze and do not think he is 100 percent on their side.

What does it mean that envoy George Mitchell is resigning? Who might replace him?

MO: Mitchell’s resignation reflects the fact that there are no negotiations right now. He will not be replaced unless negotiations resume.

How will the Fatah and Hamas reconciliation affect negotiations between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization?

ON: Netanyahu has clearly stated that as he sees it, the PLO is not an appropriate negotiating partner as long as it is allied with Hamas ... because it is a terrorist organization.

What are the main stumbling blocks to reaching a peace pact?

ON: The most important one ... committed Israeli, Palestinian and — most importantly — American leadership. Once leaders decide to lead — in earnest, in good will, with a sincere intention to reach a peace accord — their peoples will follow, and their governments could find ways to deal with other monumental problems such as a deep lack of trust between Israelis and Palestinians, violent extremist spoilers on both sides, Israeli settlements, Palestinian refugees who want to return to their homes inside Israel and many others.    

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