No breakthrough, still
Diplomatic efforts to revive the peace process have yet to bear fruit, reports Doaa El-Bey
President Hosni Mubarak met with the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas earlier this week to discuss efforts to revive the peace process and ways to narrow the chasm that exists between Fatah and Hamas. US proposals to renew negotiations with Israel, promoted by Washington's Middle East envoy George Mitchell, who has been shuttling between Palestinian and Israel leaders, were also discussed.
Although Abbas voiced optimism that the US could push the peace process back on track he asked Washington to clarify some elements of its proposal before any Palestinian response could be given.
Mohamed Bassiouni, head of the Shura Council Committee for Foreign and Arab Affairs and National Security, said that provisional talks could be held provided there was a time frame and clear guidelines.
"Talks cannot go on forever. The basis on which they are held -- UN resolutions 242 and 338 or the roadmap -- must be made explicit," he told Al-Ahram Weekly. Then, he added, if Abbas secures the necessary guarantees from the US he can take the proposals to the Arab League for discussion. If the Arab League accepts indirect talks can start.
Palestinian-Israeli talks collapsed in December 2008 during Israel's assault on Gaza, since when efforts by US President Barack Obama to revive negotiations have all stalled in the face of Israel's refusal to halt settlement construction.
During his visit to Cairo Abbas also met with Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa. Discussions are "entering a new phase", said Moussa, which could signal renewed peace talks but not, he warned, without a time frame for negotiations in place and a clear-cut agenda. The Arab League, he added, is in regular contact with all concerned parties in the hope a breakthrough can be achieved before next month's Arab leaders summit.
Despite the optimistic notes being sounded there is little evidence that either the Palestinians or Israelis have changed their positions. Abbas confirmed after his meeting with Mubarak that the Palestinians still condition the resumption of negotiations on a complete freeze of Israeli settlement building in the West Bank and reject the partial 10-month freeze imposed in late November which excludes East Jerusalem. Israel, meanwhile, insists it will continue to build homes in and around East Jerusalem and settlements elsewhere to accommodate "natural growth".
Palestinian-Israeli disagreements are not the only factor hindering the resumption of peace talks. Inter-Palestinian differences are also a barrier. Egyptian mediation between Fatah and Hamas has so far failed to reconcile the two rivals, though Abbas reconfirmed this week that Cairo's role in settling the dispute remains central.
Fatah will not, Abbas insisted, meet with Hamas leaders until they sign the Egyptian mediated reconciliation document.
"There is nothing to amend or add to the Egyptian document," he said, referring to modifications requested by Hamas. Cairo has twice postponed a planned signing of the accord because of disagreements between Hamas and Fatah.
Bassiouni rules out any possibility of further discussing the document since it would open the door to additional demands by other Palestinian factions.
"The document expresses the viewpoints of 13 Palestinian factions. If any faction still has reservations they can now be considered only during the implementation stage," he said.
Cairo's role as a mediator between Fatah and Hamas seemed to become more difficult after Egypt decided to build underground barriers along its border with Gaza to stop smuggling through underground tunnels. Hamas claimed the barriers would lead to Gazans starving, a claim Abbas refutes, pointing out that humanitarian goods can enter Gaza over, not under, the border.
Many officials, including Abbas, talk about negotiations with Israel and inter Palestinian reconciliation progressing alongside one another. But without a breakthrough in either it is difficult to see how.