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Obama opens ME peace talks; conflicting signals from Israel
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 02 - 09 - 2010

Israel's Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Wednesday the Jewish state would be willing to hand over parts of occupied Jerusalem in peace talks as US President Barack Obama opened the Mideast peace talks in Washington.
But an aide to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu clarified Israel's position, saying Jerusalem should remain the “undivided capital of Israel”.
“West Jerusalem and 12 Jewish neighborhoods that are home to 200,000 (Israeli) residents will be ours,” Barak told the Haaretz newspaper.
“The Arab neighborhoods in which close to a quarter million Palestinians live will be theirs,” he added, referring to East Jerusalem, which Israel captured from Jordan in 1967 and annexed as its capital – a status not recognized abroad.
But denying that Barak's suggested division was a possibility, Netanyahu's aide said: “The position of the prime minister is that Jerusalem is one of the core issues that are on the table at the talks.”
“Our position is that Jerusalem will remain the undivided capital of Israel.”
In Washington, Obama vowed that “extremists and rejectionists” would not derail the relaunch of negotiations.
Wading into Middle East diplomacy in the face of deep skepticism over his chances for securing an elusive peace deal, Obama condemned as “senseless slaughter” a Hamas attack on Tuesday that killed four Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank.
“The message should go out to Hamas and everybody else who is taking credit for these heinous crimes that this is not going to stop us from not only ensuring a secure Israel but also securing a longer lasting peace,” Obama said.
Obama said progress was made in one-on-one meetings he hosted with Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas ahead of direct talks to be held Thursday for the first time in 20 months.
Obama was asked how his efforts were going, after the Abbas meeting.”We're making progress,” Obama said, after escorting Abbas to his limousine after the Oval Office talks, which followed a similar meeting with Netanyahu.
Obama was later meeting Jordan's King Abdullah II and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, before all five men were due to have a joint press appearance and a private White House dinner.
The summit marks Obama's riskiest plunge into peacemaking, not least because he wants the two sides to forge a deal within 12 months for the creation of a Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel.
In Gaza, Hamas activists declared war on the talks even before they began and suspected Palestinian gunmen wounded two Israelis in an attack on their car in the occupied West Bank.
Meanwhile, Arab League chief Amr Moussa said that there was widespread pessimism in the region about new peace talks, Egypt's state MENA news agency reported.
He said that an Arab League committee, which in July gave its backing to President Mahmoud Abbas's decision to resume direct negotiations with Israel, may soon have to meet to review the progress of the talks. “The role of the Arab Peace Initiative Committee is ongoing, and there are many who are pessimistic about the outcome of these negotiations,” MENA quoted Moussa as saying. “So we may soon have to convene a meeting to assess the situation,” he added.
Israeli settlers in the West Bank said that they will break a government freeze on construction in their communities to protest the Palestinian shooting attack.
The Yesha Council, which represents the settlers, said in a statement that construction will resume.

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